Mallard Ducklings Were Lost and Now are Found

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) mothers for millions of years have selected safe secluded places to lay their eggs. Under bushy plants, in high grasses, and not more than a day hike from a nice pond. Once her babies hatch from their eggs, they are quickly on the move. Unlike songbirds whose young are altricial, meaning they are unable to do anything for themselves at all but open their mouths and accept food, ducklings are precocial – they come into the world ready to walk around and feed themselves. Within hours of hatching, mother Mallards lead their babies to water.

[Please support our work. Your contribution goes directly to the care of injured and orphaned wild animals and keeps our doors open! We need you! Please help. You can donate here now.] 

Of course in the intervening years, human have arrived on the scene, and in the last few thousand years began the process of covering the Earth in roads and other serious threats to our wild neighbors. Now an obstacle course of mayhem stands in the way of Mallard families and the ponds where they must grow, develop and learn to be successful adults. A mother killed by a car in traffic might leaving a dozen day old ducklings scrambling for their innocent lives. An off-leash dog might scatter a family with some babies never re-grouped. However it happens, thousands upon thousands of Mallard babies are separated from their families in California each year. Every year Mallards are the avian species most frequently admitted for rehabilitation in our state. Swimming pools with no way for a duckling to get out, pollution, traffic, dogs and cats, curious unsupervised children – the threats to young ducklings in human society are nearly endless.

At Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, we see less victims of these threats simply because we have a much lower human population. Still, we raise anywhere between 20 and 40 Mallard ducklings each year.

Orphaned Mallard patients from 2016, learning about duckweed, the miracle food!

Our three young Mallards who are currently in care, under a heat lamp in our indoor housing. Soon they’ll be old enough to be housed outside.

Last week we admitted the first Mallard orphans of the year. Found scrambling though a backyard in the coastal community of Manila, these three babies are doing very well, now. Currently housed indoors until they are big enough to stay warm through the night, soon we’ll move them to our specially built duckling pond and then to our waterfowl aviary where they will continue to grow and develop in relative privacy – their wildness respected and protected – until they are old enough to fend for themselves. When they are ready, after about six weeks in care, they’ll be returned to their free and wild lives.

Right now we are entering the busiest time of our year. Every day from now through the rest of Summer we will be helping keep wild families together and raising wild orphans when we must. The workload is intense and so is our need for your support. We are striving raise $25,ooo by May 31. We have $20,000 to go. Your support makes all the difference. Please donate today. Thank you!

photos: Bird Ally X


Ticks, Tock! Gray Fox Beats Clock!

A week ago at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center we received a call about a fox paralyzed beneath a porch in the oceanside community of Samoa. Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)are resident on the long peninsula that divides Arcata Bay from the sea, inhabiting the dune forests and grasses. Although common, they are seldom scene.

Volunteers from the Care Center went out to the scene and found the fox lying still, barely responsive. Once back at our facility, she was found to be suffering from a quite awful infestation of ticks.

Besides giving her anti-parasitical medicine, we also removed as many ticks as possible. After wards, with fluids and food and rest, she was given a quiet place to recover. We were not sure what her ailment was, but the possibility of tick paralysis was an immediate concern. Tick paralysis is caused by a neurotoxin that is found in the saliva of ticks and is transmitted to an animal while a tick is attached and feeding. Beginning with feet and legs, eventually the paralysis will spread to the torso and lead to respiratory failure, and of course death. The primary treatment is removal of the ticks.

Removing the ticks.

Only some of the ticks that were removed.

Her first night in care, after tick removal.

On her first night in care, her prognosis was extremely guarded. She was provided a safe warm place, and food and water. As we closed the door for the night, she could barely lift her head.

The next morning she was a different animal. Fierce and growling, she’d eaten her food, drank her water, and was unevenly standing on all four feet. We moved her outdoors to our small mammal housing. We provided her with an appropriate diet and left her alone.

Within a day she was running easily and scaling the walls when staff went in to clean or feed.

After a week we were certain that she was recovered. She’d gained 500 grams in 6 days! Her coordination was complete. She was fully capable. We took her back to the Samoa peninsula and released her back to her wild and free life.

Back in her glory after several days in care.

There are simply some things a healthy fox can do that we can’t…

Quickly removing her from the net: her displeasure is loud and clear. 

With a burst she is going…

going…   and at last gone from our sight, back to her private freedom.

At the time this fox was reported to us, she was in a countdown to death. Unable to move, vulnerable, and with a worsening condition, it is doubtful that she would have lived through the night without rescue. Our ability to act is what saved her life. Because of your support, we are able, even though our resources are few, to respond quickly to calls and provide life-saving care. This fox beat the clock because we had a running start, thanks to you!

Please help us reach our fundraising goals for this month and next. Our busiest season is upon us. We need to raise $20,000 by May 31.  We already have wild orphans in care and many more will come. They need your help! Please donate today!

all photos: Bird Ally X


First Wild Orphans of the Year

Every patient’s story begins with a tragedy. And for these eight Virginia Opossum (Didelphis  virginiana) babies, it is no different. They were found inside their mother’s pouch yesterday morning. She’d just been killed by a car. Not yet viable outside of her pouch these babies would have died soon if someone had not stopped and checked her. This is the story of nearly every orphaned Opossum we raise. These eight are the first in our direct care for the new season. (We did admit two Opossum babies earlier this year, but they were still inside their injured mother’s pouch. She recovered from her wounds and was released with her babies.)

It’s a line to walk between sadness and joy. The adorable nature of wild babies is undeniable, yet the fact that they are here in our care means that they are alone in the world – no parent to show them the way. That’s our task now.

At feeding time: each baby is regularly fed a small amount of watered down formula the first day as their tender and new digestive systems adjust to the change from mother’s milk. Keeping neonatal babies hydrated, fed and cleaned: that’s the short answer – how to do those things, that’s the specialized skill.

Once in care, these babies’ luck improved dramatically. Big enough to successfully adapt to a special formula that will replace their mother’s milk, these 8 are still very small, at around 25 grams, with their eyes still closed. Soon though their eyes will open. They will start on solid food. Once they’ve quadrupled in weight (100 grams), we’ll move them to outside housing and begin the process of weaning. And then they’ll have several weeks of foraging for food that we hide, so that they learn to fend for themselves.

We typically admit close to a hundred Opossums each year for care and raise nearly 75 babies, so these 8 are just the beginning. Of course, we’ll need your help to raise these young wild babies, orphaned by human machinery. If you want to help provide for these and the hundreds of other wild orphans we will treat this summer please DONATE, we’re going to need all the help we can get. Thank you!


All photos: Bird Ally X


What in the World is a Surf Scoter? (hint: not what. who.)

The telephone rings:

“Humboldt Wildlife Care …”

“Hi, I’m on Clam Beach and there’s a bird right here that can’t walk or fly. I’ve never seen a duck like this. It’s black and white and orange…”, says the caller.

“Sounds like a surf scoter -” and the caller interrupts to yell out to someone else, “He says it’s a surf scooter.” That’s what most people say when they first hear this duck’s name. The word scoter just doesn’t compute – must have been scooter. And actually, they’re right. Scoter, rhyming with motor, has the same etymology as scooter, meaning one who goes quickly – the motor scooter follows the duck, not the other way around.

Almost always, a Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) on the beach is a bird in trouble.

[If the caller can do so safely, we ask them to pick the bird up, wrap in a towel or jacket and bring them to our facility, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. If for some reason they can’t, such as no towel, they have dogs with them, or they just don’t think they can do it, we ask for a precise location and organize volunteers to go out and try to capture the ailing bird. Given the size of our region, this is often impractical. By the time we organize a trip to Crescent City from Bayside the chance that bird is still there is slender. So it’s very helpful when a caller becomes a rescuer.]

Surf Scoters are fairly large sea ducks who spend their winters in coastal marine habitats, including the Redwood Coast, often visible just beyond the breaking waves in large groups, where they spend most of their time, except when searching for food in the surf, as their name suggests. Come Spring, the adults leave the coast for far Northern freshwater lakes in Alaska and Canada to raise the year’s young.

As wildlife rehabilitators, we never see Surf Scoter babies. They aren’t introduced to us until they have learned to fly. In the past Surf Scoters have arrived on the California coast from their breeding grounds in early fall. In ordinary times, we typically treat birds who are struggling with basic survival, often for reasons we might never learn. Weak, very thin, dehydrated – our most likely Scoter patient is found like this on area beaches.

The beach is a bad place for a Surf Scoter. A Scoter is  shaped by the sea. After millions of years of living on water, sea birds who spend most of their time on water, have legs set far to the rear of their bodies and are very awkward on land. Also, unlike dabbling ducks, such as Mallards, sea birds, including Scoters, can’t simply fly from the land. They need a a running start to gain flight. Also, there is no food on the beach. Surf Scoters eat aquatic invertebrates, such as mollusks and crabs, found in near shore waters on the ocean floor, among sand or rocks. They dive up to 25 meters (approx 75 feet) deep, using both their wings and their feet to swim beneath the surface. It’s an environment that demands any of its inhabitants’ A game. But if you can’t make it there, coming to the beach is only a temporary solution. For a sea bird, the beach is the beginning of a rapid decline, with death the only outcome unless rescued.

Another serious threat to Surf Scoters is petroleum. Surf Scoters are rated in the second highest group on an index for vulnerability to oil spills.(1) West coast winter storms increase the risk oil spills. Surf Scoters are very common residents of the bays along the coasts, exactly where oil empire infrastructure is likely to be, and likely to malfunction. In 2007 when a container ship, the Cosco Busan, collided in dense fog with the bridge that connects Oakland and San Francisco, tens of thousands of gallons of the vessel’s fuel was spilled into San Francisco Bay. Thousand of birds were killed. Among the hardest hit were Surf Scoters. It is estimated that nearly 4 percent of the wintering population of these birds was killed by that spill.(2)

If all that isn’t bad enough, with a changing climate that is strongly affecting the circumpolar north already, and ocean conditions that have not been favoring the food chain, Surf Scoters, like all marine species, have an uncertain future.

Currently, we have two Surf Scoters in care. Each was found stranded. Neither suffered any injuries, but both were admitted very thin, with internal parasites, dehydrated and weak. Right now they’re prognosis is guarded, but we’re optimistic.

For the same reasons that the beach is a terrible place for a seabird, so do these specialized birds require a pool when in care. If we housed them in a “cage”, they would soon succumb to multiple kinds of secondary injuries that such housing would cause. Pressure sores would develop on every part that came in contact with the hard surfaces. Compared to water, even foam is a hard surface.

At our clinic we provide species-specific care, which means that we must have multiple kinds of housing available for the wide array of wild animals we rehabilitate. These two Scoters are housed in one of our seabird pools, where they can float comfortably in privacy, regain body mass, receive treatment for parasites and any other condition that they present, and recover.

Even though both birds are Surf Scoters they are still easy to tell apart. The bird on the right is an adult male and the bird on the left is an immature male, just beginning to molt into his adult feathers. If they were both mature males, we’d have to put on temporary leg bands in order to keep them straight. 

Water is expensive! We recover and filter our water as much as we can.

All our patients need privacy. When recovering, stress is very contra-indicated! Elements are added to all patient housing that provides a place to hide when human caregivers are nearby, such as the hanging strips that these birds can swim behind.
Feeling safer behind the barrier, a stealthy photographer can observe these birds at rest and better assess their true condition. When a sick or injured wild animal is aware of  our presence, they will often try to appear stronger than they really are, only letting their guard down when they feel alone.

In the best of times all are deserving of compassionate and skilled care. Wildlife rehabilitation would be an important project no matter how rosy an outlook we faced. In times as uncertain as ours, when our shared world is under a constant barrage of threats and all of us kindred live things are in peril, providing care for the innocent wild animals that are caught in this terrible net that Nature did not weave, our work is even more critical. Your support keeps us from stranding. Qith your support, we not only are able to provide individual care to a diverse array species, but we are also able to learn and teach how to give quality care on very few resources. In the coming decades, this will be increasingly necessary. And besides, good husbandry of resources is always a good idea.

You can help us meet the challenge of our busy Spring and Summer seasons. Your support keeps our freezers full of food, our pools full of water, our wires full of juice. Thank you!

all photos: Bird Ally X

(1) King, J. G. and G. A. Sanger. 1979. “Oil vulnerability index for marine oriented birds.” In Conservation of marine birds of northern North America., edited by J. C. Bartonek and D. N. Nettleship, 227-239. Wildl. Res. Rep. 11: U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv.

(2) Anderson, Eric M., Rian D. Dickson, Erika K. Lok, Eric C. Palm, Jean-Pierre L. Savard, Daniel Bordage and Austin Reed. (2015). Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata), The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America:


What Tool Saves the Most Wild Lives? (hint: you may be reading this on it right now…)

The answer: the telephone!

At Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, BAX treats well over a thousand wild animals each year, animals who would have certainly died without our help. When we think about the patients that have passed though our clinic, over the years, and gotten a second chance at wild freedom, or even those who we’ve been able to at least end their suffering, we are staggered by the numbers.

Still this number is very small compared to those we’ve helped without ever laying a hand on them.

Each day, staff at our Care Center answer calls from people all over our region who have encountered or have a conflict with a wild animal. Often these callers are frustrated and may even have very negative feelings about the animal –  a skunk in the yard that frightens their dog, raccoons getting into a crawl space, birds nesting in a chimney. Some callers aren’t hostile toward wildlife, but concerned about a possible problem – a deer fawn found along a trail while hiking, a skunk out in the daylight during baby season.

We get thousands of these calls yearly. No matter what the nature of the call is, it’s our task to make sure that each situation resolves peacefully for the animal. There are plenty of resources available for solutions that result in wild animals being killed – trapping and relocating, trapping and killing, shooting, poisoning – all manner of inhumane solutions can be found easily. Peaceful and humane resolution of conflicts between people and the Wild, however is strictly the name of our game.

Every Spring, our volunteers have a chance to practice the delicate art of advocating for and protecting our wild neighbors, and keeping wild families together. Bird Ally X produces several workshops for our staff and volunteers, as well as wildlife rehabilitators from around the state and nation. Our phone workshop is one of our most critical trainings. While the direct care we provide is important, good work done on the phone can prevent many of the injuries and deaths before care is needed. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Last weekend, we offered this workshop to our newest volunteers. e were fortunate in that we had a nice Sunday afternoon, no wind or rain. We had a good time practicing these skills, using real world examples, and learning how to be powerful advocates for and protectors of our wild neighbors.

Describing the resources we rely on so that our volunteers are confident that they can give sound advice.

Demonstrating a typical call.

Because of the nearby Humboldt State University and the attraction of the Redwood Coast, our volunteers and neighbors come from around the world and around the state, bringing a wealth of experience and commitment to our work. Without volunteers, there would be no care for wild animals in need.

In the real world, you can always “phone a friend.” A workshop participant seeks advice while in the middle of his call.

The workshops we produce are a critical part of our mission. Not only are we committed to providing the best care we can, we also strive to make improvements in our field and help develop the next generation of wildlife care providers. Your support allows Humboldt Wildlife Care Center to provide direct care for wild animals in trouble, prevent injuries with our Humane Solutions program, and also, help protect the future of wildlife care with trainings and workshops. And as we enter our busiest season, the skills our volunteers learn will serve our wild neighbors immediately as well!

As always, it’s is your support that makes this possible. We are a very small organization facing global problems as locally as can be imagined. Our work is possible, our facility exists, next generations learn, because of your support. Thank you!

We need to raise $25,000 by May 31, 2017 in order to be ready to meet the challenge of our coming busy season… our region’s injured and orphaned wild animals depend on you. Please help if you can. Follow this link to donate now or become a Sustaining Member with a monthly donation.



Highway Nearly Claims This Turkey Vulture!

It’s a number that’s nearly impossible to pin down: the number of wild animals injured and killed by automobiles. Seldomly reported, rarely found, the victims of collisions with vehicles number at least in the millions each day in the United States alone – globally that number must be in the billions. And that number probably doesn’t include the babies back in the den, or in the nest, who slowly die when their parent doesn’t return.

Needless to say, many victims survive the impact suffering from injuries that can take hours or even days to  kill them. The casual slaughter of our wild neighbors is disregarded to the point that many people don’t even see the few victims who are dead or struggling by the side of the road.

Happily, there are some people in this world with wide open eyes and compassion in their hearts.

Two weeks ago, a young man from Hoopa, Damien Scott, was traveling Highway 299 when he saw this Turkey Vulture* (Cathartes aura) struggling in the road, near Blue Lake. Damien is no stranger to wildlife in trouble. For the last several years his mother, Kim, has worked with Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, helping us with wildlife in need in the Hoopa and Willow Creek area. Damien was a young teenager when Kim started working with us.

Now an adult, Damien acted quickly and safely, scooping the injured Vulture from the pavement and wrapping her securely for transport.

Typically a large bird like a Turkey Vulture  doesn’t fare too well in collision with speeding cars and trucks. This one was luckier than most. A serious abrasion at her right hock (corresponds to our ankle) and gurgling sound in her upper respiratory tract were the only abnormalities that we found during her admission exam.

Many people slander the Turkey Vulture: that’s simply ignorance talking. She’s a magnificent bird.

Her hock laceration, although serious, was easily treated. The gurgling sound in her breath was soon revealed to be a small amount of blood. No doubt she’d been hit by a vehicle, somehow escaping without a single broken bone.

Food, rest, wound treatment and time were all she would need.

After two weeks, the Vulture was ready to go home.

When a bird is flying this well inside the aviary, you can really begin to feel optimistic about her prognosis!

Out of the carrier and into a second chance at wild freedom!

No more boxes! Not even the frame of a photograph will contain her!

Upon release she flew immediately up into a high perch in a tree

From the tree tops this patient can survey her home area, recover her normal point of view, and relax from the stress of being held captive. And then begin her regualr life where it was so rudely interrupted.

This Turkey Vulture was lucky. A quick-thinking observant young man acted with compassion and intelligence. There is no doubt that had she stayed in the road, she likely would have died, possibly after being struck again. Even though her injuries were easily treated, she still needed the safety and seclusion of an aviary for her to recover.

Our world will always need what this bird was provided. Compassionate and concerned young people and the resources to give that concern and compassion a place in the real world to do what is needed. Your support is the critical component. Without you compassion is a curse and concern is an ache that can’t be soothed. With you, they are the the fuel of our commitments. Thank you for supporting our work.

[We need you! Our busiest time of year is fast approaching. Help us prepare for baby season! We need to raise $25,000 by May 31 2017 in order to meet the challenge of raising hundreds of wild orphaned babies. Please help. Donate here. Thank you!]

All photos: Bird Ally X


*Learn about the importance, the beauty and the overall awesomeness of Turkey vultures!