Skunk’s Got White Stripes

That don’t mean she’s the road to town
Skunk’s got white stripes
That don’t mean she’s the road to town
Just trying to find her lover
Everybody’s got to run her down

Every year the same thrilling tale that Nature has told since time immemorial ends in tragedy for many female Striped Skunks (Mephitis mephitis). In January here in Humboldt (as late as end of February for less temperate areas) female skunks begin to look for a mate. Their evenings are no longer spent watching over any remaining youngsters from the previous year. No longer content to saunter the night time world looking for food and whatever sparks her curiosity, now she is driven. The force of Spring renewal is powerful thing, sending her across fields and forests and very unfortunately, across roads too.

Three days ago, we admitted our first adult female skunk of 2018, who’d likely been hit by a car. Paralyzed and barely conscious, a quick, humane end was the only appropriate care. We rarely admit a skunk who’s been hit by a car simply because they rarely live through the impact. Instead, each January we see a sudden increase in skunks, dead and left to rot by the sides of our roads, from US 101 to the small two lane black tops that criss-cross the agricultural industry of the bottom lands. Samoa Blvd, from Arcata through Manila and south to North Jetty, on a these mid-winter days might have as many as four skunks freshly killed to be seen on the morning commute.

Accidents happen. Many of us can tell a story of hitting a bird, or a squirrel, or a raccoon without warning, with no chance to avoid the impact. It’s a terrible thing. The finality of it – and in the moment, the realized cost – this Swainson’s Thrush had crossed thousands of miles to be here to raise this year’s young, but no, instead, he’s lodged in the bumper of a car that had been speeding along with coffee creamer and a few other things that had been needed at the store. The casual slaughter of billions of wild animals each year by automobile is just another tragedy woven through the fabric of our daily lives.

In the last 12 months, how many Raccoons between Arcata and Manila, between Ferndale and Fernbridge, between Bayside and Freshwater, between Redding and Sacramento were struck and killed and left to bloat and decay by the side of the road, or worse, lure another animal, a Turkey Vulture perhaps, into the same trap. It’s a measure of how far below our concern these lives are, that we can tolerate their dead bodies lying on the margins of our thoroughfares decomposing where they were killed.

It must be the case that many animals are killed simply because we don’t see them, because we never see them. We don’t include them in our ideas about what might happen. We race through the dark as if the world was closed and nothing is real but the road, our headlights, our thoughts and the dark cavern of the sky. And the Road Runner startled by our engine’s roar dashes from the sage into our trajectory, smashed in the night by the predator who never eats – to be mourned if at all, only in the form of young who may have been orphaned to die, and the great sorrow of the Earth which is too large to hear – the Earth who reels in the blood of her freshest wounds and heals as she can from wounds long inflicted – strip mines, factory trawlers, pesticides sprayed across the plains, rivers choked…

There are so many wounds in the world today. Mudslides have killed at least 18 people in Santa Barbara County. In California alone, people in the last year have suffered one catastrophic calamity after another, in a world where greater disaster seems to always loom on the near horizon. It seems that there is little we can do about these wounds on this scale. But it’s simply not true.

Against these tragedies, we have a remedy. This remedy may not lower the temperature but will make the world where we are more beautiful, more just. Dr. King said that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, and we can do part of that bending right here, right now, in our tangible world and literally where the rubber meets the road. We can slow down and open our eyes. We can anticipate that we are not alone, free to tread where we will, to pay no regard to who is left broken or killed in our wake.We can find the joy in the nocturnal wild and search for their glowing eyes. We can stop teaching our sons violence as a form of play, violence as a right of passage – to respect the other lives, minds, hearts who they encounter. Far too many patients we’ve admitted were witnessed being run down intentionally, almost always a young man at the wheel. We can teach our sons now what it means to value the soul of another.

The world is made in moments and in each moment we can remember our first loyalty – to Earth and the wild. We can learn to undo our overly built confidence in the machinery of our times and re-align with our wild neighbors, our fellow travelers through this life on Earth, or kith, our kin; -our measured distance surmountable in a leap of recognition, not faith. We can give safe passage to this skunk here now, who is crossing the road, so that she might find who she needs, so that the world is refreshed, so that her young come to be.





A Barn Owl’s Broken Wing Heals

Like most years, this winter Humboldt Wildlife Care Center has seen a significant increase in owls admitted for care that have been hit by a vehicle.

Very often the injuries to a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) after being hit by a car are too severe for successful treatment. There is simply no chance that the injury will heal, fully recovered. The bird will never be able to be returned to the wild and free life which is their birth right. It’s a tragic thing to admit an owl, in perfect body condition, at the prime of adulthood, but with a humerus no longer attached to the clavicle, ligaments torn, the shoulder joint torn apart, no longer able to use that wing forever.

Sometimes though, a Barn Owl gets a little bit of luck.

In mid-December, a Barn Owl was hit by car on US 101 in Arcata where the highway runs past the Mad River bottoms. Bottom land, such as we find all around Humboldt Bay, is perfect habitat for rodent-eating Barn Owls. Most of the Barn Owls we admit who’ve been hit by a car come to us from places where higher speed traffic cuts through the flat ranch lands of Arcata, Hydesville, Ferndale, and Loleta.

This Barn Owl, like many who are admitted after being hit by a car, suffered a wing fracture, rendering her unable to fly. Because of her size, at the upper end of the 400-550 gram weight range typical for her species, we assumed her to be female.

The fracture was in a tricky spot. Bird wings, forelimbs evolved for flight, have bones that are fairly analogous to our arms. Like all mammals and birds, Owls have a humerus that is connected to a clavicle (collar-bone), scapula (shoulder blade) and a coracoid (only birds have this bone, which provides support for the powerful downstroke of a beating wing and is not palpable). These bones come together in a mass of complex muscles and ligaments that form a shoulder that is capable of flight. Any of these bones can be fractured and recovery might still be possible, but dislocating bones from this joint, causing soft tissue trauma, ends in a patient who will never fly again. The functioning of this joint must be perfect or flight isn’t possible. Unfortunately, many birds suffer traumatic injuries to this joint when struck by vehicles or by collisions with buildings, usually a window.

Humerus fractures can be a problem because powerful flight muscles make it difficult to preserve alignment of the pieces of bone while they heal – usually this type of fracture requires surgery – a pin or some other kind of fixator must be used for the bone to heal properly. When presented with injuries like this, we often will send our patient south to Pacific Wildlife Care in Morro Bay, where Dr. Shannon Riggs, a highly skilled wild avian orthopedic surgeon who is also a BAX co-founder, works as Director of Animal Care.

After the humerus, just as with human anatomy, a radius and ulna make up the “forewing” after the elbow just as we have a forearm. Fractures to these bones run the range of easily healed with no problems, a complete return to function, all the way to broken beyond repair with no hope for recovery. The distance of the fracture from a joint, in this case the elbow or wrist, is an important consideration. Too close to a joint and a healed fracture might interfere with the range of motion, making flight impossible.

Beyond the wrist there are a couple of fused bones, the major and minor metacarpals, which are analogous to the bones between our fingers and our wrist. Next are three bones in sequence, vestigial digits after evolving for flight. The primary feathers, critical for controlled flight, attach to the wing along the digits. For mobility, lift, control and steering, the digits play a crucial role. At one time, fractures to the metacarpals and digits were not considered treatable. Fortunately, a splinting technique was developed that has changed that. It’s a splint that we use successfully several times a year.

This owl’s left wing, far beyond her wrist, was broken at the tip of her third digit. We stabilized the fracture with the splint that had been developed especially for this type of fracture. Using a piece of bandage material specifically for splints in conjunction with the rigid flight feathers to immobilize the fracture site while allowing freedom of movement to eat and perch, the splinted wing is held in place with a traditional wing wrap. We talked with Dr. Riggs about treatment, encouraged that fractured bone of the digit would heal much more readily than connective soft tissue.

The first examination also revealed that the owl was not able to stand fully, her left leg, no doubt the impact side, was much weaker than her right. Nothing broken was found in her leg, but swelling was present. Still, as injuries go, this owl was luckier than most in her situation. With splint applied, anti-inflammatory pain meds given, and some thawed out mice, her time in care began.

On a specially prepared perch that reduces captivity related problems such as pressure sores that can develop on the bottoms of a bird’s feet when spending much more time than usual standing and not flying. Perching and other housing choices are an important part of providing effective care. Knowing the natural history of many different wild species is critical if we are to treat patients appropriate to their needs.

In our large aviary (the Merry Maloney Raptor Housing)  after getting her splint removed, the Barn Owl exhibits very good flight! 

Captured for a routine exam, we are careful not to let these feet, both the tools of her trade and her only real defense against the likes of us, grab us. Tough enough to kill a large rodent, she’d cause some serious damage to a caregiver’s hand if we didn’t treat her talons with respect.

Silently swooping across the crepuscular sky, a Barn Owl is a swift and effective hunter. Even in an aviary, this owl’s flight was awe-inspiring.

The swelling in her left leg and her reluctance to use it improved immediately. Within a few days she was perching normally, able to hop around her housing, albeit with one wing tied behind her back.

An advantage that birds have over mammals is their much greater metabolism, which means that they heal much more quickly. Break a finger skiing and you’ll be in a splint for six weeks, while birds will heal in two! After 12 days, we partially removed the splint to check the progress of healing. The fracture site was nearly stable. We re-applied the splint and set her up for another check five days later, cautiously allowing a few more days than is normally required. Meanwhile, her attitude was becoming more fierce. After 17 days, the fracture site was was fully stable. We removed the splint and took her to an outdoor aviary. Immediately she took off n flight and flew around a corner and out of our view. We brought her some mice and left her alone. In a few days, after observing her flight in the aviary, we examined her one more time. In very good health, strong and fully recovered we released her back to bottom lands she hunts.

That moment when the patient realizes she is free and acts on it is a moment like no other.
Across the field…
And up toward the trees…

Putting as much distance between us as she can before stopping…

She alights on branches at the top of these tall alders and looks back toward us, toward her captors… does she know we helped? Who knows? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that she is free, using a second chance that was given her and this is the last of her looking back…
And then she leapt back into flight and was gone… returned to her wild freedom in the real world.

Wildlife rehabilitation is at least as old as human compassion, but as a profession it’s been less than 50 years that rehabilitators have been using trainings, regulations, and professional associations to improve available care for injured and orphaned wildlife all over the country. Innovations like the splint that gave this owl her second chance are made because of support generously donated. These innovations and improvements are passed on to other caregivers and are taught to the next generation of rehabilitators using the resources that your support provides. This Barn Owl is hunting the night-time world of the bottoms surrounding northern Humboldt Bay thanks to you making sure that we are here, doors open and ready.

Barn Owls are awesome and fortunately easily observed. But it’s their proximity to us, to the hazards of our modern world that are nothing but traps to animals evolved to the standards of Mother Earth, not industrial mechanized society  that are the greatest threat. It’s up to us to do what we can to slow down, be aware of the dangers we present to wild animals and modify our actions when we can. Co-existing with Barn Owls: it’s only natural.


all photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX



Raccoons Make End of Year Deadline: Free in 2017!

The last orphaned Raccoons (Procyon lotor) treated at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center were released on New Year’s Eve, ensuring that these youngsters returned to wild freedom before the ball fell on the year… (note: there is no evidence that raccoons care even a little bit about calendars or clocks).

Both raccoons were late season babies in a year that saw significant departures from our normal caseload – a huge increase in mammal babies as well as an extended season that lasted over a month longer than past years.

One raccoon, a female, was brought to us in early October, weighing only 450 grams, very skinny, with an infection that left both of her eyes crusted shut and heavy congestion. She was only about 4 weeks old, with teeth just beginning to emerge. Her first day in care was nearly her last due to the severity of her condition. She’d been alone for many days after her mother and siblings had been illegally trapped. Severely dehydrated and malnourished, still she showed remarkable strength. She responded quickly to the antibiotics we gave her. The fluids and milk replacer also did their part. Soon she was in good body condition, well hydrated and full of spitting fury.

Our concern that she would be alone for most of her care was alleviated when we admitted another raccoon at the beginning of December. This one, a male, was the same size and at the same stage of development as our female orphan. He was brought to us after being found lingering at the back door of a restaurant, where some were feeding him scraps.

Both raccoons were served by the other’s company. Having a buddy, if you’re a raccoon too young to be on your own, helps reduce stress and promotes well being – play is critical for learning. Raccoons playing together learn about the natural diet items that we provide and playing together encourages them to eat. Play is critical for developing physical skills like climbing. While we don’t wish for patients, admitting the male in early December really helped the female, and having the female in care already was a boon to the male, once his quarantine was over.

We check the weights and development of our orphaned raccoons every two weeks, striking a balance between our need to monitor their progress and their need for privacy and the protection of their wild hearts. By mid-December, we knew that their next check-up would be on New Year’s Eve and we knew that they were likely to be ready to go at that time. When the day arrived, both raccoons passed their release evaluation and were taken to a very nice spot for a young raccoon to enter the Wild, a place remote from human houses, in a healthy ecosystem with a lot of excellent food.

Evaluation for release includes behavior such as wild food recognition and fear of people, physically, each raccoon must be in good health and fully functional, and a weight check – raccoons must be a certain size before they can considered for release.

In our raccoon housing, we have an artificial river which we use to help them learn that fish and other aquatic creatures are delicious and found in water. When taken to a real river, they know what to do!

Exploring the new world takes time… both raccoons exhibited a very cautious approach after they came out of their carriers. Studies have shown that wild animals who approach novel situations with caution and even fear, do better at avoiding the dangers of the human-built world. Protecting the wildness of our patients is as important as treating their injuries. 

Our last glimpse of these raccoons before they left for the surrounding Wild… and excellent way to close out the year!

Caring for raccoons is challenging and rewarding. Raccoons are very intelligent and seek mental stimulation. Keeping them wild and fearful of humans is difficult – they’re smart enough to read our actions. So we adopt a hands off approach once they are weaned. Our housing is designed to be a teacher – a safe place to explore an imitation wild environment, complete with moving water, grasses, hidden insects, eggs, prey items, and fruits (mostly zucchini!) that we put in branches they must climb to reach.  We’re proud of the raccoons who graduate from our school! And we’re grateful to all who support our work and make our raccoon program the success that it is!

Now our raccoon housing is empty, which gives us the needed time to make repairs and improvements for our next season which is only four months away! Want to help us out? Donate today! Thank you!!


Happy New Year! A greeting from Humboldt Wildlife Care Center’s Assistant Rehabilitation Manager!

Happy New Year to everyone! Please welcome Lucinda Adamson, assistant rehabilitation manager at HWCC, writing her first post for the Bird Ally X website!

As the holiday season unfolds, things are getting quiet around the clinic. Many long time volunteers are away visiting family and friends for the holidays. And the phone rings less often than it used to, hopefully that means fewer animals are getting hurt.

There is still a lot of work to be done and thankfully not everyone travels for the holidays. Several new volunteers are just starting out after recently completing their orientation. (Find out how you can volunteer here.) They are quickly learning the meaning behind one of our sayings we have around here – housekeeping is animal care.

Several patients were recently released. Yay, Freedom for the Holidays!! Now we clean aviaries, siphon pools and repair leaks, tidy up the outdoor space and deep clean the indoor rooms. And all too soon we start thinking about what necessary repairs and additions must be made before orphaned baby seasons starts anew.

As I type this, I periodically check on an injured Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens) floating in a therapy pool. Admitted just yesterday too thin and weak to stand up on his own, the warm water provides a chance at recovery and some small comfort in the otherwise stressful world of captivity. And I pause to answer the phone: responding to calls about injured deer, a hawk hit by a car, a sparrow who collided with a window, and providing advice on how to safely and humanely prevent a river otter from utilizing a koi pond as an easy dinner buffet.

In the room across the hall, an American Robin (Turdus migratorius) fights for her life. Suffering puncture wounds, feather loss, and a broken clavicle. We will never know exactly what caused her injuries but they are most consistent with a cat attack. Thanks to the vigilant community member who recognized something was wrong when the robin wouldn’t fly, she now has a chance of recovering. If all goes well, she’ll be in our care for 2-3 weeks and find freedom again in the new year.

Injury and need for care don’t take a holiday. The Humboldt Wildlife Care Center is open every day of the year. If you find an injured wild animal, please call our clinic right away 707-822-8839.

Thank you for your support. Your support has ensured that the one thousand one hundred and fifty-six animals we treated in 2017 had a place to go in their time of need. Your support really does make a difference for wildlife.

If you would like to donate to support our work, you can follow this link to our 2017 Holiday Card here.

Happy New Year!

Lucinda Adamson
Lucinda Adamson at work on a Summer day…