Every year, as our busy wild baby season comes to a close, aquatic birds, who breed elsewhere, come back to the Pacific Coast to overwinter. The famed Aleutian Cackling Geese, Brant, Grebes, Loons, seaducks, dabbling ducks, all use our relatively mild winters with historically food-rich waters to while away the hibernal months.
At Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, the arrival of wintering aquatic birds means a dramatic change in our caseload. Already this Autumn we have provided care for dozens of adult and juvenile aquatic birds.
For adult birds, this season is a time of comparative ease, without the responsibilities of rearing young. For this year’s young, this is their first season in the world of adults, a time of learning – learning to hunt, where to find food, learning their way around the real world, becoming independent.
The real world naturally holds threats – not every juvenile bird lives. Adults die in storms. They are caught by predators. Old age takes its toll as well. Still, it’s rare that we admit patients suffering from these natural calamities and processes.
Most patients are admitted in poor body condition – emaciated, anemic and dehydrated – obviously suffering from starvation.
This year, the usually “productive” California Current is not providing the quantity of fish needed to support the wintering population. As we noted earlier in the year, Common Murres, who raise their young on the North Coast experienced complete colony failure this year due to the absence of appropriate prey fish. (Even at our clinic we are struggling to stay in supply of food to feed our patients, due to this shortage!)
There are other causes of injury. Some of our patients this season were entangled in derelict fishing gear, and no doubt we will treat more. Derelict fishing gear is a global problem that makes itself known locally everywhere.
Typically each year we treat waterfowl, geese and ducks, that have been legally shot by hunters, but not killed, that have been found later by someone else. And sometimes we admit aquatic birds with traumatic injuries that we can’t ascribe to any particular cause – wing fractures, leg fractures that may be from collisions with human infrastructure, boats, battering surf – we just don’t know.
In all cases, however, our trained staff and purpose-built facilities allow us to provide excellent care for aquatic birds – noe of which would be possible without your generous support. So as we continue through this season, scroll the photos below to see some of our recent and current patients. And get out and enjoy our wintering wild aquatic neighbors! And as usual, if you can help us meet our mission with financial support, please do! We need you!
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)in care, moments before her release evaluation, demonstrating that explosive flight is well within her capabilities.
Female Northern Shoveler during her release evaluation exam
Northern Shoveler wing, extended for examination. Note her delicate blue and green speculum.
Northern Shoveler flies free!
Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) feet! Very awkward on land, in the water, these feet become propellers, as the bird swiftly pursues fish for her meals.
Western Grebe wing.
Each bird receives nutritional support, is treated for parasites and given supplemental vitamins while in care.
Like many aquatic bird species, Western grebes are social and seek the comfort and safety of a like-minded community.
Even a Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) can be part of the gang!
Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) being released after two weeks in care, regaining lost body weight and strength.
Another Western Grebe released.
This Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) collided with a building suffering very little injury. Still this male needed a few days to recover. Upon release in his home territory at Big Lagoon he immediately circled around calling and joined a female, his likely mate.
An incredible moment as the Kingfisher flew a circle around his caregivers immediately after release.
Belted Kingfishers, like all aquatic birds, require specialized care. Bird Ally X was founded as a means to bring quality aquatic bird care to the more remote areas of our coast where experience and resources are scant. This male’s care and release at Big Lagoon is a testament to that mission.
In an awesome update to a recent story, this Pacific Loon, who was found by HWCC staff on the beach in Samoa entangled in a discarded fishing net, was just released today!
Releasing any patient is an immeasurable reward, but in another way we have a direct measure – your support. This Loon’s second chance was bought and paid for by your donation! Thank you!
Your support for our work during every season is critical. We have nearly a dozen aquatic birds in care right now, in addition to our other patients. We anticipate more to come. Each month brings us new challenges – some predictable, like the return of wintering seabirds, others less predictable, such as failing prey fish populations, sudden storms, and other emergencies. Being able to rely on you allows us to prepare for both. Your donation (click here) to help us meet our November goal of $7000 will go directly to the care of these remarkable birds who live so near to us, but whose lives are so different. Thank you!!!