Going Home to Ferndale: a Young Hawk’s Story

Goin’ home to Ferndale, I’m healthy and I fly
Goin’ home to Ferndale, I’m healthy and I fly
If you ever want to find me, I’ll be in the sky…

The property owners in Ferndale had seen the young Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) for a few days. They thought something was the matter with him. He’d been hanging out by the side of the road, often on the ground. Each time they approached he would fly up onto a fence post or tree branch. Then, a few Fridays ago, they called Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. He was on the ground not flying at all and they were sure he needed our help.

[Speaking of needing help – we need yours! Our work is funded by your generous support. Our March goal of $7000 has not yet been reached! We still need nearly $1000 – please help us it! You can donate right here. Thank you!] 

Clinic staff drove to Ferndale and easily scooped up the ailing hawk. In the exam room, we found a very skinny bird, with a few lacerations ranging in seriousness, but all easily treated. The wounds were old, with some necrotic tissue, and emacation doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s hard to say what came first – his failure to provide himself with dinner, or his injuries. Nothing else appeared to be the matter.

The young hawk’s admission exam – alert but weak, none of his ailments were life-threatening by themselves, but compounded they had him on the brink of death. (photo: BAX/Gisele Albertine)

After cleaning and dressing his wounds, the hawk was put on a course of anti-biotics. With emaciated patients, their digestive system can be so compromised that they need a special liquid diet, not unlike a protein shake, before they can eat their natural food. We determine what to offer for food based on many things. An important factor is found in basic blood work, percentage of red blood cells and total dissolved protein. His blood work was actually pretty good – good enough that we could offer whole food immediately, which he immediately devoured.

After a few days of good food and quiet recovery, his wounds were healing and he was strong enough to be housed outdoors. Here he steadily regained strength and gained weight in an impressive display appetite and vigor.

Still, his reluctance to fly, although he had no injuries that would prevent flight, let us know that his strength and stamina were still low.

Our aviary faces a grazing pasture that rarely has people in it – just cattle. Our patients enjoy a quiet, safe place that is still connected to the outside world. Stress reduction is a key part of our treatment plans for all patients.

In the aviary, not really flying yet – when we would go in to get him for a check up he would flee from us on foot…

For the first week outdoors he did little more than hop when provoked. He was an impressive hopper, but hopping is not flying. It may seem obvious, but flying is when you stay up in the air on your own power. Most mammals, such as ourselves, have no personal experience of this.

It can be disheartening, tracking a patient’s progress when they simply don’t start to fly. When you watch a bird leave a perch, if all they do is glide to the ground, that’s not flight. Some species of squirrel can do that. Our responsibility to our patient prevents us from wishfully seeing flight where there is none.

However, just as his wounds had quickly healed, and his appetite had returned, and his weight climbed back to normal (from 600 grams to 1100!), when he began flying again, he did so with gusto!

This is flight!

After recovery and conditioning, he passed his release evaluation with flying colors!

Back to Ferndale – home again… Ferndale rats beware!

And here we left him, back where he belongs.

This Hawk, a youngster, most likely about a year old, was different than every other patient – his recovery was his own, he has his own story. Yet he’s also the same as every other patient – from the common wounds and illnesses that we frequently see and treat, to his needs as a wild animal who requires freedom as much as he requires protein. His rehabilitation wasn’t by the numbers, nor was it really very different from any others’. He is unique and ordinary – like each of us – and his care mattered the world to him. There is one more hawk still in this sweet old world, thanks to the people who watched him and knew that he was in trouble, to the advice they got to call us, and to your support that keeps our doors open and our aviaries ready. Thank you for helping us help this Hawk.

[Want to help? Donate here. Thank you!]

All photos: Bird Ally X/ Laura Corsiglia, except where otherwise noted.


Caught in Grease Trap, A Healing Pigeon’s Grace

Caught by a camera in preparation to fly, our recovering Pigeon patient cuts a fine figure of power and grace.

Just over a week ago this Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) was found in the parking lot of Eureka Natural Foods, contaminated by cooking grease, missing all the feathers from their back and covered with first and second degree burns (read story here). After a bath and safe place to recover, this patient is doing very well and is nearly ready for release back into wild freedom. Your support makes all of our work possible. From Bald Eagles to Rock Pigeons, you keep our doors open and our staff ready. Thank you!

Want to help us reach our fundraising goal for March? We still need to raise $2000! Click here to donate today. Thank you!!

photo: Bird Ally X


Wild Baby Season is Coming!

The earth rolls around the sun dipping first this hemisphere then that one toward the light and the wild animals follow suit. Summer birds have already begun to return to the North Coast. Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) investigate the old cavities where they may have raised last year’s young. Ravens (Corvus corax) fly though late Spring winds with sticks for their nests held tightly between their bills.

Mother mammals are on the move, seeking safe places to give birth. This year everyone is in  a hurry to bloom and leaf!

All of  this means that our busiest season is about to start. Each year we treat around 1200 animals. Nearly half of these patients come in during the months of May, June and July. While we stive to reduce the number of our wild neighbors who need help,  through public education and good phone consultation to resolve human/wild conflicts, still our caseload and our costs will predictably skyrocket in the coming weeks.

We will be reaching out to you frequently, asking for help. Financial contributions of any amount are critical. We’ll also be asking for donated supplies, like goat milk, produce, sheets, towels, vinegar and baking soda – all things that are crucial to our daily operation!

Nestling Swallows (2015) receiving their regular feeding – soon these birds would fledge into our Songbird aviary where they continued to be fed while they learned to fly and eat on the wing.  
Common Murre (Uria aalge) chicks, separated from their fathers at sea, too young to provide for themselves. Each year we raise any number of these oceanic birds, depending on the how successful the year’s breeding season is… last year we raised 6, the year before, 30.
Every year for the last 5 years we’ve provided safe haven and bits of mouse for a Western Screech-owl (Megascops kennicottii) chick found in Fortuna’s Rohner Park

Every year we care for several Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) goslings who’ve been orphaned by the highways that separate their nest site from the water. Parents killed trying cross US101 leave chicks scurrying in traffic – a dangerous situation for all. If safely captured, the young geese will come to our facility in Bayside.

The most common reason for young Opossums (Didelphis virginiana) to be orphaned? Their mothers are hit by cars while they’re still in her pouch. Each year we admit over 50 babies! 

Black-crowned Night-Heron(Nycticorax nycticorax) chick’s life took a turn for the worse when s/he was knocked from the nest high above the beach at Moonstone during a wind storm. This yung bird ate a lot of fish!
Every summer we save lives, preserve wild families, and give unfortunate victims of accidents and human intervention a second chance. This juvenile Hermit Warbler (Setophaga occidentalis) whose nest was disturbed in the Arcata Community Forest. An improvised substitute made from a basket lined with twigs and mosses was placed high in the tree  above where the young not yet flighted bird was found. Soon parent birds were seen bringing food and resuming care. Reuniting wild babies with their families is an important and frequent task throughout Spring and Summer.
Each year Raccoon (Procyon lotor) mothers are shot, trapped, poisoned and otherwise mistreated in ways that leaves their babies behind, often stuck in an attic or a crawlspace and left to die. When they’re lucky, someone hears them, finds them and brings them to us. Almost every single orphaned raccoon we care for could have been raised by their mother if only people would take basic steps to protect their property by preventing Raccoons and other animals from getting in, or seeking advice before acting irresponsibly and resorting to lethal solutions. Providing care to orphaned Raccoons isn’t cheap! Usually they are in care 4 moths before they can be released. Each baby costs nearly $500 to raise successfully and we raise over 20 of these curious Earthlings each year!

Every year our busy season has the added stress of paying for food and medicine, the water bill, the electric bill, staff salaries. Scrimping and saving is good and necessary, but so is knowing that our basic costs are going to be covered. It’s good to know that if an unexpected major expense comes up – like last year when we treated a lead-poisoned Bald Eagle whose care required six months of recuperation – that we’ve got it covered.

So, we’re launching a special Baby Season fundraiser.* Our goal is $25,000 between now and May 31. That’s 9 weeks. $25,000 will keep us going through early Spring and leave us ready to take on the most hectic months of our year with something in reserve, reducing our stress so that we can be better care providers. It costs us about $12,000 a month to operate during the Summer. Your help is vitally important. Without your generosity… well, let’s just say that we are grateful that you’ve kept us going this long and we look forward to your continued support. Let’s make this the best, least stressful Wild Baby season we’ve had. Thank you!!

*By the way, we are still a couple thousand short of our March goal of $7000. Want to help us reach it? Donate here. Thank you!!


photo: Bird Ally X/ Laura Corsiglia


Pacific Pond Turtle!

Found on Samoa Beach, this young Pacific Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata) was almost kept as a pet. Fortunately he mentioned the turtle to his veterinarian at Sunny Brae Animal Clinic and they cautioned him that the turtle is wild and needs freedom. They called Humboldt Wildlife Care Center and we went over and picked up the curious and active youngster. No injuries or illness were found on his admission exam and he was released to a nearby mucky area that from now on will be known as Turtle’s Delight!

There are so many ways to live on Earth! Some of us spend years wth parental help and supervision on our way to adulthood and others, like this turtle, are born ready

Even though we strive to maintain a professional distance from our patients, sometimes it’s hard not to just be bowled over by the cuteness!

Seriously, though, this young turtle came very close to having his life ruined, spent in a glass box. Fortunately the person agreed to give this turtle his freedom. Also, the turtle was fortunate that the people at Sunny Brae Animal Clinic knew to call us at HWCC.

As we enter Spring and wild babies start to pop up around our community, please let’s help remind each other to keep wild animals wild, and to keep wild families together (even if it’s a family of one turtle!)

Want to help us meet our challenging mission to provide care for injured, orphaned and misplaced wild neighbors? We’ve raised over $4000 toward our March goal of $7000 and need your help! Without you, this turtle and all of our patients would have nowhere to go when the chips are down. You can donate here. Thank you for helping us help our wild neighbors!

photos: BAX


Sustaining Member Drive!

This month Bird Ally X is launching a drive for Sustaining Members.

Sustaining members are exactly like anyone who supports our work financially. Except you help us every month. Our Sustaining Members, some give $5 a month, others give $250, form the core of our contributors. Your donation each month not only provides money to accomplish our mission, your contribution also shows your commitment to our success, and the success of our wild neighbors. Seeing your name pop up every month is an invaluable encouragement! And your contribution really adds up! If you signed up for $5 a month, that’s $60 a year! 

$60 feeds the orphaned fawns in our care for five days! Your $5 each month will keep our lifesaving phone service on for one month every year! If you become a Sustaining Member who gives $10 each month you will provide 100 pounds of fish! 100 pounds will feed a recovering Brown Pelican for 20 days. $20 each month will cover the gasoline for 12 trips to Crescent City or Laytonville or Weaverville to transport an orphaned or injured wild animal.  Want to bowl us over? A monthly gift of $1000 will cover the cost of our tenancy at Jacoby Creek Land Trust!


So, how do you sign up? Easy! Just click on our Donate Now link and when you make your contribution, check the box that says to make it monthly!

We often ask for your support. Without it we can’t exist. And we often say that all donations are important no matter the size. Well, it’s true. Think of every bird you’ve ever seen. Without receiving a small bit of sustenance on a very regular basis, that Sparrow or Thrush, Eagle or Crow would have never flown.

Thank you for keeping us in the air!



After Falling in a Grease Trap, a Pigeon’s Goose Is Nearly Cooked

Early Sunday morning we got a call at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center that an injured bird, probably a pigeon, was running around the parking lot at Eureka Natural Foods, unable to fly. A staffperson headed over to find a Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) who’d been contaminated by cooking grease.

Restaurant grease traps are a fairly common hazard for wild animals in urban or suburban areas. Most municipalities have ordinances that make it illegal for commercial grease traps to be uncovered, but accidents happen.

It’s hard to imagine how bad it must feel to be covered in cooking oil hot enough to give you the equivalent of a bad sunburn. If this pigeon hadn’t been seen and rescued, the result would have been a slow, starving, painful, solitary death.

Cooking grease can be very hard to remove, as anyone who’s ever washed a dirty frying pan knows. Most dish detergents effectively remove grease, but for cooking oils, ease of removal is often tied to the temperature of the wash water –  again, as anyone who has washed a dirty frying pan knows. Unfortunately, high temperature water, such as a dishwasher would use, would be fatal, so we must use water that is close to the patient’s body temperature, in this case around 40˚C (105˚F). This makes the job harder. Pre-treating with another oil that is easier to remove can be helpful.

Multiple pans of water were needed. 

Clean but soaking wet from the bath, the Pigeon was placed in a 38˚C incubator. Wet and also missing a significant amount of feathers, it is easy to see the first and second degree skin burns over his or her entire body.

Now clean, all that’s needed is time to grow in some feathers and heal from the burns.

Rock Pigeons are not appreciated by many, but there is simply no reason to not love these powerful survivors. They take nothing from us. They are not a disaster for native species; and for urban people they may be the most familiar wild neighbor.

We never know. The phone rings and it could be an Eagle, it could be a House Mouse. But someone, somewhere has a wild animal in trouble. There aren’t any other resources but their local wildlife rehabilitator. For nearly 20,000 square miles on the North Coast of California, the size of New Jersey, for most wildlife, there is only Humboldt Wildlife Care Center/BAX. Without your support, there would be nothing. Please help us meet this month’s needs and prepare for our intensely busy wild baby season.  We still need to raise $4000 before the end of March.  Donate here if you can. Thank you!!

photos: Bird Ally X




Bald Eagle’s Suffering Ends

As we posted last week (original story here), we admitted a juvenile Bald Eagle for treatment on March 10th, who’d been in care at another facility since June 2016 after he was found at the base of a tree near Weaverville with broken wings.

It was apparent immediately that the fractures he’d suffered in his left wing had healed improperly for flight or even normal postures. We decided to transport the young raptor to Pacific Wildlife Care (PWC) in Morro Bay where BAX co-director Shannon Riggs, DVM serves as Director of Animal Care. Besides her general work as a wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Riggs is a very experienced orthopedic surgeon. We needed her evaluation and documentation of this bird’s condition.

Last Wednesday, Elissa Blair, who was once a BAX intern and is now a staff wildlife rehabilitator at PWC, and Humboldt-based BAX co-director, Laura Corsiglia took the bird on his journey south.

Shannon Riggs performs a complete examination of the young Eagle.

Restraining an Eagle is always challenging work. Just holding that much wild freedom, even in such a mournful condition, is a rarefied experience. It’s a lot to grasp.

Dr. Riggs prepares the sedated Eagle for radiographs.

A photograph of the x-ray…  

Even though we weren’t surprised, the results of the exam were devastating: a badly healed humerus, shortened by the injury and improper alignment; a nearly fused and immobilized left elbow; left radius and ulna suffered multiple fractures and have healed in a mess of twisted bones; and the bird’s left carpus (wrist area), because the wing dragged on the  ground for nearly a year, suffered a lesion that had changed the shape of bones that are critical for flight. Any one of these issues would prevent this bird from ever flying, of ever being released back to the wild. Combined they made this bird’s life a daily struggle with pain. With the approval of US Fish and Wildlife Service, the young Eagle’s suffering was ended.

When we open our door each morning to be available for injured and orphaned wild animals, we don’t know who is going to walk through … Each day brings new cases, each case brings new challenges. Every patient has her or his own story, their own needs. Some species, due to our society’s atrocious history of abuse, are more strictly protected. All patients however deserve the best care we can provide. While this Eagle won’t ever soar the skies above the Trinity Alps, as was his birthright, at least he’s soaring somewhere.

Thank you for providing us the means to do our job. Your support is critical. Our goal to build up Humboldt Wildlife Care Center into a wildlife hospital that is also a teaching center for the next generation of wildlife rehabilitators is well under way. Please help us carry our work forward. Donate here if you can. Thank you.

All photos: Bird Ally X/Laura Corsiglia



A Young Bald Eagle, A Difficult Case, A Slim Chance.

Usually we share our successes. Now and again we might share stories of patients whose injuries were so severe that the only care we could provide was to end their suffering, but we don’t often take our supporters and community members through that process. It’s our task and we perform it as we need to, without regret, because it is a simple fact of wildlife rehabilitation that most  of our work consists of ending the suffering of animals still alive but battered, sometimes beyond recognition, let alone repair.

Also, we don’t often share the stories of animals who are still in care. The primary reason is that for wild animals, captivity itself is life threatening. The stress of being in a caregiver’s hand can be too much for a songbird – sudden misfortune, or setbacks in care, can derail a patient’s recovery. Building expectations of happy resolution that doesn’t come seems unnecessary.  Also, it’s simply a cultural standard that we don’t count our proverbial chickens before they’ve hatched. 

So, with all that in mind, here is the story so far of this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) who we admitted for care a few days ago.

Last Friday evening, BAX co-founder Laura Corsiglia and one of our long time volunteers met a Warden from California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) in Willow Creek to accept a Bald Eagle who’d been in care in Weaverville since June of 2016.

Our first glimpse of young Bald Eagle, after meeting CDFW staff in Willow Creek. Although young and disabled, this bird is still formidable!

It is unknown how the young Eagle was injured. According to the Trinity Journal, the fledgling was found at Trinity Lake at the bottom of a tree with an Eagle nest, suffering with multiple fractures of his left wing. (While it isn’t certain, we believe the bird is a male based on his size which is at the smaller end of the spectrum of Eagle sizes.) At the time he was found, a CDFW warden in the area took the fledgling to a veterinarian in Weaverville. Near death due to dehydration and lack of parental care, the Eagle was stabilized by the staff.

For reasons we are not sure of, the Eagle’s treatment continued in Weaverville over the Summer of 2016 into the Winter. In December CDFW staff attempted to transfer him to our facility in Humboldt County (Trinity County is our neighbor to the East) but a rock slide had closed Highway 299 east of Willow Creek, barring passage. Several attempts were made over the next few months to get past the slide during temporary openings without success until last Friday, the 10th of March.

Once in care, immediately BAX staff could see that this Eagle’s left wing was seriously damaged. Multiple fractures to the humerus, radius and ulna have healed with very poor alignment. His wing cannot function at all, nor can he hold it in anything close to a normal position. At this point, only extensive surgery could save this bird’s life let alone help him recover to the point of being releasable.

Our patient after his first day in our care. We immediately contacted the wildlife biologist at USFWS responsible for Migratory Bird permits who grants our permit to rehabilitate birds. We stay in close contact with her any time we treat a specially protected species (most birds are protected under various laws, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act) such as the Endangered Species Act, or, in this case, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

However, this Eagle has been in care for nine months, and since we have one avenue that may give him a chance, we’ve decided to try even though it’s an extremely long shot. Bird Ally X co-founder and co-director, Dr. Shannon Riggs, DVM, who is Director of Animal Care at Pacific Wildlife Care near San Luis Obispo, is a highly accomplished avian orthopedic surgeon – her evaluation of his wing and his chances for a successful surgery are worth seeking. With the approval of the USFWS we’re transporting this bird to her care at that facility this week.

He has a difficult road ahead with the odds stacked heavily against him. If he were a patient like any other, we would likely have already made the decision that further treatment would be unlikely to help and would only compound the misery of captive life.

While his prognosis for recovery is very poor, and his current condition is so poor that humanely ending his suffering may be the only possible outcome, we believe it is worth it to exhaust all possibilities. We will be posting updates as his care proceeds.

The damaged wing is presumably painful and drags on the ground causing secondary wounds. Soon, however, this limbo will end – hopefully with good news, but at least his suffering will be over no matter which direction his care goes.

The care for any injured and orphaned wildlife here on the North Coast wouldn’t be possible without your support. For this patient, when we factor the cost of transport to a facility 500 miles away, the cost of surgery, the cost of rehabilitation post-surgery (here’s hoping!) we will need your help more than ever. We already have a goal for March of $7000 that doesn’t include the care of this young Bald Eagle. Want to help? Donate here. Thank you for supporting our work!

photos: Bird Ally X/Laura Corsiglia

One Western Grebe Improves Care For All

A storm-tossed Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) was admitted last month at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center.

Western grebes are relatively common birds on the Pacific coast in winter where they can often be seen in the salt chucks, bays, lagoons, and the ocean, often in large groups, just beyond the breaking waves. We treat many each year. Last year we provided care for nearly 30 Western Grebes. 2014 was a bad year for these elegant aquatic birds – we treated 97.

Because Western Grebes are frequent patients, we generally have good results treating their most common ailments, parasites such as tapeworm, emaciation, and loss of waterproofing due to contamination.

In most ways, the Grebe that came in last month was an ordinary patient. Found on the beach in Trinidad, small abrasions under her lower bill had bled and soiled her neck feathers, which caused her feathers to lose their waterproofing. But that wasn’t her primary problem. Her biggest problem was that she is a juvenile who’d been facing her first winter of independence. This year’s exceptionally stormy season got the better of her. Emaciated, dehydrated, and wet, she didn’t stand a chance without rescue.

But in one critical way this Grebe’s treatment was unusual.

Many of the aquatic birds we treat are piscivores, or fish-eaters. Ordinarily, it is the protocol in successful treatment of highly aquatic birds who require pools to offer these patients fish with low fat content. Pool water quality is important to protect and fish with higher fat content has caused problems, the fish oil contaminates the pool water and in turn contaminates the feathers of the patient, which disrupts the carefully maintained waterproofing. In the wild, these contaminants lead to death. Oil isn’t water-soluble. A detergent of some kind is required to remove it. Once oiled, a bird needs to be cleaned.

Caring for aquatic birds is a specialized skill precisely because of their need for water. Pools, water quality, feeding techniques are each crucial elements in providing care, as are the efforts we make to protect our patients from the harm that can be caused by holding aquatic patients out of water. On land and inside our building, birds who typically float on water their entire lives, are highly susceptible to pressure wounds, respiratory infections, and other secondary problems caused by their time in captivity.

An aquatic bird housed in “dry-dock” needs protective wraps to guard against injures from even the softest solid surfaces. Even with these measures, the patient still must get back to water quickly.

Most of the techniques and protocols for rehabilitating injured aquatic birds come from oil spill response. During an oil spill, sometimes thousands of birds might be impacted. The techniques developed to increase success with such large caseloads is the basis for most current aquatic bird care. Generally we follow them with predictable and largely positive results.

However, something very unusual happened in 2016. The low fat fish we feed our patients, Night Smelt were no longer available. Our supplier said there would be nome until April, and that wasn’t even certain.

Fish populations across the oceans are in trouble, of course. Rising sea temperatures, plastic pollution, over-fishing, agricultural waste run-off, acidification are all wreaking havoc on the marine environment and the health of Mother Earth.

So, we got the fish that our suppliers could deliver: River Smelt, known here on the Northwest coast as Eulachons.

Eulachons are a very nutritious fish, with twice as many calories as Night Smelt. They are also bigger. Not so big that they can’t be swallowed whole by a Western Grebe (see video below) but five times larger than night smelt. Mathematically, it’s easy to see how Eulachons are a better fish to feed. Two 50 gram fish hold a total of 150 calories. Night smelt, at 10 grams each and 70 calories per 100 grams, require 20 fish to reach the same energy content!

This Grebe wouldn’t eat for her first week in care. She had no interest in food. She also had an injury just inside her cloaca, or ‘vent’, so it is possible that she was very uncomfortable when eliminating solid waste. In any case, we had to provide her nutrition via a feeding tube, a technique known as ‘gavage’ feeding – basically putting a fish slurry (a blend of smelt, vitamins, and a nutritionally enhanced liquid similar to a protein drink) directly into the patient’s stomach.
Gavage feeding is necessary when a patient isn’t able to self-feed.

Her weight during this period gradually rose. Our schedule for feeding balanced the needs of the patient to not see our scary faces too many times a day against the calories she needed to recover from her near death by starvation.

Typically aquatic birds require about 3 weeks of Night Smelt to recover from clinical emaciation. Of course there is some variance depending on other factors, including the personality of the patient.

[Your support needed! We are several thousand short of our March goal of $7000! Any amount helps! from $5, to $5 a month to $5000 dollars, your generosity goes directly to our mission of direct care and education. Please donate today!]

After the first week in care, going in and out of the pool, the Grebe struggled with her waterproofing. Her feathers around her vent were consistently wet. Besides for the confirmation that she might indeed have a wound healing just inside her digestive tract, her waterproofing issues were keeping her from spending all her time in the pool, which she needed badly. She had begun eating on her own and her weight was climbing steadily. The only thing holding her back was the persistent wetness around her vent. So we applied detergent to that area to give her a boost. Within a day she was waterproof.
After a week in care, she’d started eating on her own, and with our help, she was waterproof.

After 48 hours in the pool, we thought she was going to be released very soon. And then came a major setback. A volunteer went out to check at the end of the day that the birds in the pool had food and our Grebe was completely soaked, sitting on the little net (we call it a ‘haul-out’) we have for birds who need get out of the water. A healthy bird rarely uses it – it’s essentially a lifeboat for a bird who is struggling.

We pulled her from the pool, put her under a pet dryer and kept her indoors overnight. We analyzed the pool for what might have caused her problem. An obvious suspect, of course was the fish, the fatty Eulachons that had been such an effective food for her emaciation.
This is a very soggy bird using her haul-out. 50˚F water isn’t comfortable for warm blooded animals without thir protective shell. Aquatic birds rely on their feathers to satay warm and dry.

How fish are presented in pools is a tricky proposition no matter what the fat content is. Pieces of fish rather than whole fish are an oily mess even with Night Smelt. Our pools all have an overflow system so that any oils from fish or feces on top of the water are constantly being eliminated.

The problem was identified and we took corrective action. The basket we place the fish was not allowing water to freely flow, trapping oils. Every time our patient put her head in that water to grab a fish, she was picking up the oils and then spreading them around body when she preened, the time-consuming work that most birds must do every day to keep their feathers in good, functional shape. It was a simple problem, simply fixed.

We re-washed her. Within 24 hours she was fully waterproof. 48 hours after that, she was released, 300 grams heavier than when she was admitted, her wounds healed, and her life back on track. Her total time in care, with set backs: 15 days. The Eulachons, even with the problem, shaved a week off her recovery time. That’s simply too good to reject. So we amend our ways to accommodate the oil.
Using a very mild detergent and warm water, the Grebe was quickly washed. From here she was palced in a warm water pool where she essentially rinses herself, finishing the job. Another day of preening and she’ll back on top of her game. A hidden camera caught her as she works to reolve her feather issues in private. She also likes fish!

After another 48 hours in our pool, with modifications made to our system, she ate Eulachons and gained even more weight. After 2 weeks in care, she was released back to her wild freedom.

And then she was gone.  Our intimacy with her is done. She returns to her rightful place, out of our hands.

Right now we don’t have a choice. Eulachons, or river smelt, are what we can find. But even if we do have a choice, we’ll be sticking with the Eulachons. Our goal is to provide the best care, and good nutrition is cornerstone to that goal.

At our clinic in Bayside, with 1200 animals per year in care, we have the opportunity to elaborate on the gains made in aquatic bird care that emerged from high casualty marine disasters such as oil spills. We have the opportunity to develop strategies using our hard won knowledge to improve the care individual animals receive. Will Eulachons be a good fish choice to feed patients in an oil spill? Maybe, but we’d need to devise methods to improve water quality in ways that aren’t currently available. For individual patients, however, or for the much more common caseloads that coastal wildlife rehabilitators face daily, at our teaching hospital here on Humboldt Bay, we are doing the cutting edge work of improving the results of our care. Just as importantly, our efforts here don’t stop here. Through workshops and conferences we take the results of our work to other rehabilitators, demonstrating techniques and processes that they can use, on limited budgets, with limited resources. This necessary self-reliance seems to be the future of all rehabilitation work.

As we enter this period of dire uncertainty – with the Endangered Species Act under threat, with the Environmental Protection Agency openly attacked – in this terrible anti-bloom of the post-conservation era, our work is critical to the future of wildlife rehabilitation.

No matter how bad things become, no matter what night mare unfolds, wild animals will continue to suffer from human activity, human structures, and human caused problems such as quickly deteriorating ocean health. There will be those among us, today, tomorrow and as long as humans are present, who will be compelled to help. If we meet the challenges of our mission, those rehabilitators to come will have reliable information on how to provide good care.

Your support is the only thing that makes any of our work possible. Thank you!

All photos/videos Bird Ally X.




Experiencing Turbulence: The Rough and Tumble Life of A Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus) are not typical. Through the Winter they prefer the rocky coast, foraging blithely among the smashing waves. Generally speaking, they’re unusual to see, not because they’re rare, but because waves smashing on rocks is not habitat that suits the human animal that much. Come Spring the Harlequin leaves our rocky coast and goes North to raise this year’s family in the thrashing and fast moving current of Arctic rivers and streams. All of this is why it took us a moment to identify the injured duck brought down from Crescent City in the middle of last month.

A female Harlequin, she’d suffered quite a trauma. Found among the minefield of rocks that makes up the beach on the North side of Crescent City, she had a severe laceration on the top of her head, and her left cheek was badly cut, part of her feathered face hanging loose.

Somehow she’d been battered. By the recent storms? By a dog unleashed? We’ll never know. We do know that she needed care and given her dark colors among the dark rocks, her small size and the vastness of the sea, she was very lucky that she was found.

The lacerations looked bad, but in fact, they were easily treated. Each of her limbs was intact; she was in  good health. We cleaned and dressed her wounds and prepared for the real task of her care: keeping a duck who loves the turbulent sea, fast moving water, and the freedom to dive against the rocks for her dinner of mollusks and crustacea in a calm pool in the middle of a small ranch a mile from the nearest saltwater.

Fortunately she accepted our diet of krill and small fish purchased at the pet store as a workable substitute for barnacles and tiny crabs.

A deep laceration on the Harlequin’s face would likely have lead to her death had she not been spotted and rescued.

While a Western grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) is not one of her own kind, housing patients with others, usually helps reduce the stress of their temporary captivity.

After more than three weeks in care, she was at last ready to go home. Her wounds fully healed, in good body condition, her blood work good, we took her to Trinidad. We are fortunate with most seabirds that they don’t rely on specific territory as much as bountiful habitat. We didn’t need to return her to Crescent City – she’s soon going leave our region for the high Arctic. With a sheltered ocean beach that is just a quick paddle around the corner to the open swell of the Pacific, Trinidad offers an excellent place to release oceanic birds that is also relatively safe for human caregivers to reach.

Please help us reach our March goal of $7000. Now is the time to prepare for our busy Spring and Summer season! We need you. Please Donate Here ]

Here is the sequence of photos from her release on March 8.

Searching beneath the waves…

And finding food!

At home again.

And here we left her: to her own life, her privacy, her autonomy, her wild and mysterious freedom to be the kind of duck she is. Our world is a many-roomed mansion, and we enter few of its doors. Yet our actions have impact everywhere. Even the Harlequin must be considered.

An interesting article on Harlequin Ducks and the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil spill ]

From where this duck came and to where she will go, we’ll never know. Our concern, and what we can do, is make certain that she and her kind are able to freely live their lives. Your generosity made her success in rehabilitation possible.

Thank you for supporting the work of Bird Ally X and Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. Your love for the Wild makes a difference for thousands of our wild neighbors each year. Even those who you may never see.

All photos: Laura Corsiglia/Bird Ally X