In Wildness is the Preservation of Raccoons, In Raccoons is the Preservation of the Wild

Raccoon (Procyon lotor) babies have a lot to learn. As adults, Raccoons hunt and forage for a wide range of food, from songbird eggs to berries to the salmon a bear leaves behind. Raccoons hunt small rodents, crunch on snails, and nibble the mushrooms on the forest floor. Raccoons are brave, resilient, adaptable and notoriously intelligent.

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Orphaned Raccoons in their housing, prepare for the wide and wild world. To help them recognize the real world when they see it, we’ve provided them an artificial river of concrete. We call it the Los Angeles river. No substitute for an ecosystem, but at least they know to look for fish in moving water.

Raccoons have lived in North America for millions of years. This familiar wild neighbor has nearly as many names as there are indigenous languages. We use the Algonquian name, derived from arahkunem – which is said to mean “scratches with hands.”(1) Locally, in Wiyot, the animal “with the painted face” is known as jbelhighujaji (pronunciation).(2)

For a glimpse into their place in the ecology of Northern California, a Shasta story has Coyote and Raccoon living together each with five children. When a jealous rivalry ends with Coyote killing and feeding Raccoon to his children, one of Coyote’s sons tells Raccoon’s orphans what happened – they decide to kill all Coyote’s pups but the one who told them. Afterward they flee with the spared pup into the sky. Coyote tries to follow but cannot keep up. The six young animals become the Pleiades, high above in winter when no raccoons are about, and down from the sky in Spring and Summer when raccoons emerge with young.(3)

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Taken to a remote tributary of a nearby river, rehabiliator Lucie Adamson and volunteers prepare to release the season’s first six raccoons back into their wild freedom.

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Taking their first tentative steps into a world without walls. As kits, as soon as they began eating solid food, they were offered fish, mushrooms, plant material, small rodents, small birds, vegetables, fruit, eggs and insects, hidden under rocks and logs, hanging from branches. They know where to look for food.

It isn’t frivolous to consider the seriousness of raising orphaned babies of a species this complex, this storied, this ordinary, this mysterious. Here we are, as removed from “universal nature” as any species has ever been, yet it’s up to us to provide an education for these wild young things.

When we commit to the care of a wild orphan, we accept the responsibility for their wild education. To teach a wild baby to be wild requires an inhabiting imagination. We must see the world this young animal will see, and then provide the challenges that will teach the skills necessary to thrive in that world.

When we commit to the care of a wild animal, we are committing to the wild, to nature – we are accepting Nature’s terms – we are accepting, and in fact seeking, the blaze of reality. This is, as they say, a tall order.

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Young, healthy and in a lush and resource-filled environment, these orphans will soon find out they are home.

Meeting nature’s terms does place the rehabilitator in an awkward position. Our towns, our cities, ranches, forestry, fisheries, in short, nearly all of modern society struggles to co-exist with the wild. Promoting co-existence with wild animals – this alone puts a person outside of most of society’s concerns.

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Just released, this Raccoon finds something to eat right away.

To be an ally of the wild often puts a wildlife caregiver in opposition to the general dreams and desires of our human neighbors. Schools, shopping centers, highways, solar farms, windmills, none of these, no matter their merits, is a boon to the wild. Even though any of these promises to preserve the world, a wildlife rehabilitator doubts the proposition.

Experience, or maybe intuition, knows that people don’t preserve ‘the Wild.” The wild is the expanding universe and the cosmic sweep of galaxies, it’s the comet’s eventual return, the dividing cell, the grasp of the leaf cutter beetle, the gill, the hoof, the photosensitive tissue that finds these words on the screen. We see the strip mine, the copper mine, the mountain top removed for the coal beneath – the old forest destroyed – the old forest re-named “overburden.” Factory trawlers scraping the bottom of the sea, oil spilled from exhaust into the suffocating sky – it’s hard to believe that modern society will preserve anything.

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After nearly four months in care, a young Raccoon explores a real river for the first time.

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Reaching the opposite shore.

Henry David Thoreau, in his essay “Walking,” offers what could be the wildlife rehabilitator’s complete philosophy, in eight simple words: “in Wildness is the preservation of the world.”(4) This statement is irrefutable. In some ways it is shocking that it had to be uttered. To rehabilitate wildlife, rehabilitators live by this simple truth, its utter grace and its razor sharp accuracy.

Everything emanates from the Wild. What else can the wild be if not the headwaters of existence? The wild could be called the real. We may as well say that in reality is the preservation of the world – not in law, not in hybrid automobiles, not in aqueducts, not in theology. The real presents itself. Wild allies follow as we can.

This year, at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, BAX staff and volunteers have been caring for two dozen orphaned Raccoons. Our first litter of four, whose mother had been trapped and dumped miles away, came the third week of May. They were nearly three weeks old. Last weekend we released six youngsters who were ready to go. We still have over a dozen in care.

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With startling speed the Raccoons dispersed into the forest.

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It can be difficult, as caregivers, to prepare our charges to one day climb much higher than we ever could.

Each of these youngsters is learning to hunt, to forage, to climb, to hide when threatened. Each of these youngsters is fierce and determined. Healthy in mind and body, we release them into a carefully chosen site. Food must be present. Water, too. Cover against predators (Coyote is still looking for Raccoon) must be available. Room to roam – these animals must be able to disperse from this site, preferably adjusting to freedom and autonomy before encountering a backyard and the get-rich-quick scheme to be found in humanity’s garbage pails.

For the release, the six Raccoons were weighed, examined and put into transport carriers. We drove them to a remote location on a tributary of a nearby river. Once the carrier doors were opened, five of them sprung into action, heading for the river and swimming across to its other bank. Some climbed trees, others immediately searched for and found food (food we’d put there, but nothing like early success to build confidence!).

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One Raccoon was more cautious. Our release team moved back from the site and waited.

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At last, confident that the coast was clear, S/he left the carrier behind.

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Forest riparian habitat is excellent for Raccoons. And it didn’t take this group long to figure that out. Now they’ve entered the real world. Will each survive and live long lives? No one knows. What we do know is that we’ve given these young wild kin the best chance we could.

One Raccoon hung back, not leaving the relative safety of the known carrier, poking her head out, ducking back in. Our team moved back and waited. Eventually, after many hesitating starts, she left the carrier and quickly disappeared into Reality.

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All good things are wild and free. – Henry D Thoreau

Your contribution makes the care of orphaned Raccoons, and all of our wild neighbors who need our help, possible. Please donate. Thank you for being a part of our life-saving work.


All photos: Laura Corsiglia/Bird Ally X

(1) The Rice University Neologisms Database, ‘coon’, accessed 27 September 2014

(2), accessed 27 September 2014

(3) Shasta and Athapascan Myths from Oregon, Livingston Farrand and Leo J. Frachtenberg: The Journal of American Folklore Vol. 28, No. 109 (Jul. – Sep., 1915) , pp. 207-242

(4) Walking, Henry David Thoreau, The Atlantic, June 1862

The welcoming committee was slightly outlandish.

In early July, on the beach at Big Lagoon park, a young Common Murre (Uria aalge) was found struggling in the surf. Too small to be in the ocean, certainly too young to be alone, without rescue certain death awaited the young bird.

Common Murres, like most alcids, spend their entire lives on the sea, coming to land only in Spring for the annual rites of renewal. Found all around the Northern Hemisphere (circumpolar), Murres nest in large colonies on rocks, seastacks and remote cliffs that are safe from predators. Before they can fly, when their wings are still quite undeveloped, parents, typically their fathers, lead the chicks from the colony out to sea and good foraging areas.

The ocean is a big place, though, and for any number of reasons, a chick can become separated from her or his parent. Without a father, the only hope these young birds have is to wash up on a beach and be found.

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After a week in care, still sporting the nestling fuzz

Weighing in at 159 grams on his/her first day in care, a heatlamp and food were offered, as well as a quiet place to become accustomed to this sudden turn of events. For the time being, there would be no parent, no rolling swell of the North Pacific, no live fish freshly delivered. For the first two weeks in care, we had to put whole fish in the young seabird’s mouth to ensure s/he was eating.

While the Ancient Mariner’s complaint of “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink” may be true for humans, seabirds do drink salt water. A special gland – the salt gland – filters out the excess salinity. Exposure to salt is important for this gland’s development. For this reason, among others, we provide a salted pool for young, growing seabirds.

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Salting the pool

Provided that a juvenile Murre is healthy enough to be housed in the pool without losing waterproofing or body temperature, then treatment is a relatively simple matter of periodic examinations and a lot of fish. This young bird, who at adulthood will weigh a little under two pounds (about 900 grams) ate two-thirds of a pound of fish each day, or about 40 pounds over the course of her/his care.

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In the big pool for the first time

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A growing baby after 8 weeks in care

From less than 200 grams to release, our youngster had to gain nearly 800 grams! Common Murres are wing-propelled “pursuit divers.” This means that they chase down fish underwater, using their wings to move – essentially flying beneath the surface of the sea! When s/he began diving in the pool we offered live fish, so that s/he could begin learning to hunt.

At last, on September 8, the young bird was as ready as s/he’d ever be for release.

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Netting the Common Murre from the pool for release evaluation.

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Rehabilitator Lucinda Adamson evaluates our patient for release.

Humboldt Bay opens into the North Pacific through a channel kept open by constant dredging. Not only does this allow a wide range of vessels to the bay, the channel, known locally as the Jaws, is used by seabirds of many species. At this time of year it is very common to see Common Murre fathers and their young foraging here. We chose this place to release our Murre so that s/he’d be close to his/her own kind, with the hope that they would finish teaching all that we couldn’t. (A 2500 gallon pool in Bayside is not the Pacific Ocean!)

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The “Jaws” connecting Humboldt Bay to the Pacific Ocean. A “feeding frenzy” awaits our patient!

When we got to the rocky bank of the Jaws, the tide was out and the water was unusually calm. Rehabilitator Lucinda Adamson and volunteer Jeannie Gunn made their way down to the edge. A hundred yards out, a large group of birds was feasting upon an unseen school of fish. Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), Double-crested and Brandt’s Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus and Phalacrocorax penicillatus, respectively) Caspian Terns (Hydroprogne caspia) and, most happily, hundreds of Common Murres were all diving and calling. A symphony of Murre calls, as fathers and their young stayed in contact, rang out, louder than all else.

Here’s a short video from that day:

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Out of the box, into freedom.

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Back in the Ocean, our patient takes a moment to see “which way the wind blows.”

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To sea!

Soon after hitting the water, our youngster swam out from shore, toward the large group. A pair of Murres, an adult and juvenile approximately the same age, swam up to our bird. Immediately they began diving together, one of them surfacing with a fish. And then they melted into the group and “our bird” was ours no more. Now s/he was her own bird, just as s/he always had been.

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Looking of fish

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A colleague!

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An adult in background

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A fish for a youngster?

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Happy wildlife caregivers enjoying the beauty of their work

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An adult Brown Pelican does a flyby

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Sandpipers on the wing across the Jaws

Your help is needed. The specialized care that seabirds require is made possible by your contribution. Please help us help wild wild animals in distress. Give today.


all photographs: Laura Corsiglia/Bird Ally X


Two gulls together.

Two Western gulls, one adult and one who’d hatched this year, were in care for most of July and August. If life hadn’t thrown each of them a curve ball they may have never met.

Thank you everyone, our August fundraising drive is over! But it’s not too late to help push us over $5000. Your donation goes directly to the Rescue and Rehabilitation of the North Coast’s injured and orphaned wild animals as well as humane solutions to keep wild families together and the use non-lethal methods to resolve human/wildlife conflicts. Thank you for donating today!

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As they come out of the box, a brown/gray juvenile Western Gull meets beach sand for the first time while a white adult scrambles toward freedom.

The young bird was found on a rock off the coast of Crescent City. Typically, this would be where you might find a gull fresh from the egg. Western Gulls rear their young on the seastacks and remote headlands all along the California coast. Less than two weeks old, the bird still had hatchling feathers. We offered him fish and safety and as soon as s/he began to fly, the company of other gulls.

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The adorable nature of hatchling gulls can sometimes test the resolve of professional caregivers. “Please can I keep him?” says the smitten rehabilitator. “No!” says Mother Earth, and she quotes Henry David Thoreau, “All good things are wild and free!”

Four weeks after the hatchling Gull was admitted, an adult Western Gull was brought to our clinic who was unable to fly. Upon admission we discovered the bird’s right ulna was fractured near the wrist. As with our arms, the wings of all birds have a shoulder, a humerus between shoulder and elbow, and from elbow to wrist, two bones in parallel, the radius and the ulna.

If you have to break a wing, this sort of fracture is among the easiest to treat. The uninjured radius serves as the perfect splint to stabilize its partner, the ulna, while it heals. The fracture being close to the wrist did cause some concern, but the chances for a full recovery seemed good. We immobilized the wing and checked its progress periodically.

One of the remarkable things about birds compared to mammals is the speed that they heal – a broken bone in a mammal can take 6 weeks or longer to mend, while most fractures in birds are stable after 12-14 days! This gull was no different and after 13 days the break had healed and the stabilizing wrap was removed.

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In our aviary, wing fractured healed, the adult Western Gull shows off some skills.

At this same time, the young Gull, fully grown, with flight feathers in (no more cute spots!) was ready to be housed with the adult birds in care. While the adult re-conditioned for flight, the fledgling was discovering flight for the first time.

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While trying to catch the adult for an examination, the youngster insisted on being included.

Within two weeks, the youngster was following the adult around the aviary, mimicking flight and asking to be fed, and the adult was flying with grace and agility, as a gull should.

Releasing a young orphaned bird is a challenge. Although our young patient was able to recognize appropriate food and forage independently, it is still preferable that young birds have adult guidance. Now that our adult patient was fully recovered, it was a fortunate coincidence that we were able to send our youngster out into wild freedom with an older bird.

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The adult sprang from the carrier into flight and never looked back…

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Circling the area after release, the young Western Gull demonstrates his flight skills.

We took both Gulls down to North Jetty on the Samoa peninsula. The adult burst from the carrier and off across the water. Meanwhile the young Gull took some time to become acquainted with freedom. Soon anothe youngster came by and eventually both took off together – free, wild and at the beginning of a hopefully long career.

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Beautiful new feathers holding up a beautiful new bird.

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A colleague is discovered.

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Our former patient with a new friend explore the possibilities of endless wild freedom!

Your support makes success stories like these possible and gives injured and orphaned wild animals a much deserved second chance. Thank you for being a part of this life-saving work.

Thank you for your donation.

(all photos: Laura Corsiglia/Bird Ally X)


Passenger Pigeon on the 100th Anniversary of Extinction

© Louis Agassiz Fuertes

On September 1, 1914, The last known Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), who had been given the name Martha by the Cincinnati Zoo, died in captivity. She was 29 years old. She’d never raised young. When she died, so did the species. As the bumper sticker reminds us, extinction is forever. After 100 years, Passenger Pigeons are just beginning to be extinct. 100 years before the death of this last female, the Passenger Pigeon may have been the most numerous bird species on the planet.

Numbering in the billions these beautiful and highly social birds filled the skies and the dense deciduous forests of the East. Now the skies are filled with satellites, aircraft and far too many parts per million and the forests are shattered.

For North Americans born in the 20th or 21st centuries, our childhoods are filled with stories of the days when this or that species was so abundant that you could walk across the river on their backs, or it took days for the flock to pass, or the herd stretched from horizon to horizon, or the sun was darkened by their shadow. We hear these stories and wonder what they could mean. Our world is so much emptier now, we can barely imagine this – yet these stories are largely true. The American Buffalo (Bison bison), Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis), Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis), Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) – each of these species were once common, some so common that it was inconceivable at the time that they could ever be threatened with extinction. This is the important fact. In our time we protect (if we do) the threatened and the endangered species, but as we see, it’s the common species, the ones we take for granted, who’ve been driven to extinction by the thoughtless machine that grips us.

On this sad anniversary, why not take a vow to break free of the machine’s soulless grasp? Vow to be a bird ally, a wild ally. Live an authentic human life in the blaze of reality. What else is there?

To learn more about these species, and the terrible history of industrial civilization, start here: