How to Survive Being Hit by a Car; a Robin’s Story

While an accurate count is hard to come by, it is estimated that as many as a million wild animals are killed on US roads and highways every day – close to 400 million (over 200 million birds alone) of our wild neighbors killed by cars and trucks each year.

At Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, BAX over 10% of our patients are known to have been hit by a car. As any casual observer can attest, the number of wild animals seen by the side of the road is overwhelmingly huge. So far this year, we’ve admitted just over 90 patients, 14 of whom were known to have been struck by a vehicle. Of those 14, only two were able to be released. One of those two, was a lucky American Robin (Turdus migratorius).

Admitted on a Saturday afternoon after being found struggling on the ground along the Indianola cutoff between Eureka and Arcata, the young male was fortunate that none of his bones had been fractured by the impact.

After an initial dose of anti-inflammatory medicine, to ease pain and help him recover, our patient spent his first night indoors. The next day we moved him to an outdoor aviary where we could observe his behavior and assess him for release.

After two days outdoors, his reflexes were returned, he was harder to capture, and he’d even gained a couple of grams, courtesy the mealworms we provided for his nutrition.

We had a few Robins pass through our clinic while he was in care. To distinguish  between patients, temporary leg bands are used… 

… which are removed prior to release. And this Robin checked out great after 4 days in care.

Near to where he was found is a nice secluded bit of forest, safe from cars, that will allow him to reacquaint himself with his freedom at his own pace.

Immediately he left the box and perched above the release crew in nearby branches.

Working his way farther and farther from his former captor-helpers…

… until at last he takes to the sky and leaves…

This Robin is one of the very few lucky birds who survive being hit by a vehicle. And without your support that keeps our doors open, he wouldn’t have survived either. In a world where shocking violence takes the lives of so many, so regularly, we often forget that our wild neighbors endure a commonplace slaughterhouse that we humans built and regard as nearly a human right – to smooth pavement, to individual travel that moves 20 times faster than our own legs can carry us, to not be concerned with the toll it takes on other lives.

Thanks to your support, we are here for those victims of the highways, to help in whatever we can – from ending the suffering of those who’ve been horribly battered but are still alive, to providing care for those who can recover, to helping keep our wild neighbors in mind – to reminding our motorist neighbors to slow down, to see the birds and the mammals who must find ways to cross the asphalt meat grinders we’ve put up all over the world.  If you can help us, please do – we operate on a meager budget that wouldn’t exist at all without you. Thanks for helping!

photos: Laura Corsiglia/ BAX


Young Hawk Survives Dog Attack!

So often we just never really know what happened. A young Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) was found in a backyard in Myrtletown, close to the Fay Slough Wildlife Area, as the crow flies.

The hawk had been caught by a dog. How? Why? Only the hawk and dog know.

The hawk definitely got the worst of it. Besides his very low energy, or lethargy, a condtion that is what had even allowed him to be picked up, a few of his secondary flight feathers were damaged, the broken feathers bleeding significantly. Because of the blood loss, the hawk showed a pronounced anemia at the time he was admitted. Anemia, or a lack of red blood cells, has obvious signs. Pale mucous membranes and general lethargy are two of the most easily seen. Red blood cells primary task is to carry oxygen, critical fuel, to all parts of the body. For a wild animal, living in the non-buffered reality of Nature, lethargy caused by any illness will interfere with necessary, life-sustaining activities, like hunting and eating or evading danger. Anemia is cured by red blood cell production. Like all bodies, the hawk’s body needs food to replace lost cells. Anemic lethargy creates a negative feedback loop with death and dissolution as the only end.

Red-tailed hawks are a common and frequently seen raptor. Their piercing screech is often heard in Summer when parents teach their young to hunt. Many have seen one of these hawks strike prey right next to a highway. The mowed areas of grass around highways are naturally good places to hunt, and no doubt litter from passing cars increases the population of rodents and other species that Red-tailed hawks rely on to survive. We treat many hawks each year who have been hit cars. The neighborhood where this hawk was found means that he’s probably hunted around US 101 at the south end of the safety corridor between Eureka and Arcata. Many Red-tailed hawks and other raptors make use of the fields and wetlands of that area. It’s a dangerous part of the world, full of houses, traffic, pets and poisons. It’s this hawk’s home.

For all the blood and minor soft tissue trauma, there were fortunately no breaks or dislocations,. Finding no other significant injuries, we gave the him a supportive wing wrap, antibiotics, a mild pain reliever, some food and we left him alone for the night.

Within a few days his red blood cells, responding well to the steady supply of thawed rats (you can help us keep rats in stock! click here to donate to our account!), were rebounding. Soon he was able to thermoregulate. As soon as he began regenerating red blood cells his attitude began to improve greatly. His fierceness had never been dimmed but now he was able to do something about it! It wasn’t long before his activity in the protective indoor housing was signaling loud and clear that he was awake and very dissatisfied. We moved him to an outdoor aviary, out of the building, with more space and more privacy, acclimating back the elements, able to begin his recovery of flight, which we thought might take some time..

Immediately, however, the hawk began making very convincing, energetic flights around the aviary. After completing a course of antibiotics and after his red blood cells count was healthy and normal and after he’d been flying around in our aviary for close to two weeks, we took him back to his neighborhood and his wild freedom.

HWCC staff examines the hawk’s injuries.

The moment before capture for a routine exam is very stressful for our patients. We minimize contact as much as possible.

It’s an old joke but we’ll tell it again: This hawk is thinking, “Outside the box!” 

A moment in the grass to gather one’s wits…

… and then up to a nearby tree…

… to have a better look… 

…around the old neighborhood…

and then off…

… back to his life, on edge of Humboldt Bay.

Like all of our patients, this hawks care, his food, his medicine, his housing, all of it, is possible only becuase of your support. We need your help now. Please donate if you can.

photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX


American Wigeon Gets Fancy Splint and It Worked

One of the most critical elements of the care we provide injured waterfowl is their housing. The more time a bird naturally spends in the water the more crucial it is that they are housed in a pool while in care. Millions of years have shaped some birds to a life spent almost exclusively on water. For full time aquatic birds, time spent on land while recovering from an injury can lead to even more serious, life threatening secondary problems. On land, delicate feet that rarely feel a hard surface quickly develop pressure sores that can become infected to the point that an entire foot could be lost. Typically heavy-bodied for their size, resting on their keel (sternum) on a hard surface rather than floating, can lead to a lesion that forms along the bone which can significantly lengthen their time in care. While we are able to treat many of these problems, preventing them is the best course. Protective wraps on their feet and sternum can extend the time that an aquatic bird can be housed away from water from a few days to a week, but even then, time is of the essence.

These concerns have a major impact on the types of injuries that we are able to treat. In the last fifteen years, we have developed techniques to prevent secondary captivity-related injuries – including the above-mentioned protective wraps – that have allowed us to treat wounds that once were considered hopeless, such as deep wounds below the ‘waterline’, keel lesions, and wing fractures that would need to be splinted for 12-16 days. Most splints that we use to stabilize fractures cannot be gotten wet. A wet splint could lead to feather rot, hypothermia, and sadly even death. So highly aquatic birds with wing fractures were very difficult to treat. Two weeks away from water could also be a death sentence.

Fortunately, especially for this American Wigeon (Mareca americana) who we admitted for care in mid January, in recent years we’ve added a new material to our splint making capabilities.

The wigeon was found in the Ma-le’l Dunes, unable to fly. In otherwise good condition the only injury we found was a fractured L radius. For most birds, a radius fracture, has the greatest chance for full recovery. As with people, the radius is paired with another bone, the Ulna. If the Ulna is intact, then it will serve as part of the stabilizing splint. In this wigeon’s case, the radius was fractured badly, with two breaks. But the skin was not broken, and the fractures were far enough from either the wrist or the elbow that we felt there was very good prognosis for this handsome duck. However, an ordinary wing wrap wouldn’t do. Wigeons aren’t like mallards and other dabbling ducks. Although able to stand and walk, wigeons are divers who spend most of their time on (or under) water. While we might be able to nurse him through two weeks on dry land while his wing fracture healed, it was a big risk. If we could house him on water without worrying about a wet splint, it would significantly improve his chances of a full recovery.

In the photographs that follow, you’ll see how we stabilized this wigeon’s fracture, using what we call a thermoplastic splint. The material is heated up in water until it is soft and then applied to the fractured limb where it hardens into a stabilizing cast.

Heating the material in a mug of hot water softens it so that we can shape it however it is needed. 

Before we apply the thermoplastic, we put down a layer of paper tape to protect the wigeon’s feathers from the plastic which is somewhat sticky when soft. The tape will breakdown once it is wet, leaving only the hardened splint.

The tape is applied in the same pattern as a typical wing splint for a radius fracture – what we call the figure 8 wrap.

Hot, sticky and ready to be applied…

Following the tape, the thermoplastic splint easily conforms to the desired shape.

Applying the last piece…

A dose of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, for pain, and the procedure is complete!

Able to stand, eat and rest comfortably, the splint performed perfectly.

After 14 days of recuperation in our large seabird pool, we removed the splint. The fracture had healed well. We gave the wigeon a couple more days without the splint to make sure that all was well He began flying as soon as he was put back into his pool, but we wanted to be sure that everything was going to work out. A week ago, after 18 days in care, the wigeon was released back to Humboldt Bay near the Ma-le’l Dunes.

Our patient made it out of the box and halfway across the sky before we could get a shot due to a technical glitch that still upsets our staff photographer, but this wigeon’s caregivers don’t mind. We’re just happy to see our former patient flying this high above the trees, home again. We think its safe to say that the wigeon doesn’t care either that a more clear photo doesn’t exist. 

Providing the best care that we can for any wild animal that comes through our doors means we have to be ready for anything, from a diving duck to a soaring raptor, from a burrowing rodent to an arboreal marten. Your support allows us to stay current in our field, search for onnovations that will improve care and add to our field’s collective knowledge and also help out each individual patient who we admit for care. It’s a big task, especially in a world that mostly ignores our wild neighbors’ needs. You make it possible. Thank you!  And if you can, please donate today. We need your help every day of the week, every week of the month, every month of the year.

all photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX


They Shoot Coots, Don’t They?

It happens regularly during waterfowl season – we admit a patient who is a gunshot victim. Of course it makes sense that when people are discharging shotguns – firing a blast of pellets into a flock of birds – that some will be killed and others injured. The killing is intentional. But the injured – collateral damage, to use the war propagandist’s term – are unlikely to be found and depending on the severity of their wounds, they are in a terrible situation – suffering is likely the only thing they have left until a slow death by starvation, or infection, or blood loss eventually ends it.

But sometimes these injured birds are seen! In the middle of January some caring people found an American Coot (Fulica americana) in their backyard in South Eureka. The bird was weak, barely able to fly, but in relatively good body condition, which means that the problem had a sudden onset – that usually means an injury as opposed to poisoning or an illness. With no obvious fractures or gaping wounds, we had to thoroughly search beneath the bird’s soft, black feathers before we found the problem. On his abdomen and right leg a few small pellet-sized holes told the story. He’d been shot.

Who knows where he was headed, but from the site of his shooting – Eureka is surrounded by habitat that is heavily used during waterfowl season, and Coots are a much hunted game bird – he made it this far – a backyard on a dead end side street a mile from anywhere he might have found food or other coots – before his injuries brought him to the ground.

Once in care, it was obvious that he’d gotten lucky – the pellets might have caused much worse damage. We cleaned the wounds thoroughly, found no pellets, closed them with veterinary glue, gave him antibiotics, a pain reliever and some food and safety.

For the first few days in care, we tended the wounds and kept him in a quiet, low-activity environment. His leg wound made it difficult for him to walk and all of his wounds were below his “waterline” so until they were further a long in healing he couldn’t be housed in water. Also, for the first week we worried that his loss of appetite, certainly stress-related, would mean that more invasive care (as an example, force feeding) would be required.

The stress for any wild animal in captivity is extreme – studies have shown that the loss of control over their own destiny – an intolerable situation for most people – causes deeply injurious physiological responses, impacting every aspect of their health, physical and mental. Obviously our patients are being held captive against their will. Our commitment to their eventual recovery and release is the only justification we have for holding our patients without their consent. This commitment and promise is the bedrock of our work. This means we have to take careful steps to reduce the stress they feel in captivity as much as we can. Stress inhibits healing. It’s a simple equation: encouraging healing means reduction of stress.

Fortunately, the coot found his appetite. Between the right mix of dietary items (fish, krill, mealworms, aquatic vegetation, and aquatic invertebrates) and his own impulse to thrive, he slowly began putting the weight he’d lost back on without us having to increase his handling and therefore his stress. This was the beginning of his real recovery.

Wounds heal. It’s one of the ordinary, everyday miracles of our world. Tissue grows back together. Bones mend. Even psychological trauma eventually recedes. Some wounds take more time than others. It took this Coot nearly five weeks to fully recover, from both his wounds, his weight loss, and regain complete use of his legs.

American Coots, with their distinctive white bills and duck-like habits, are regular winter residents of Humboldt County. In wet years they can be easily found in the ephemeral ponds that form on the agricultural bottom lands all around the Bay. Every year Arcata Marsh is home to hundreds of these birds. On his release day, that’s where we took him. As you can see he made short work of putting some great distance between us.

In care in our waterfowl aviary, still favoring his right leg.

Typical diet for Coots includes fish and aquatic invertebrates.

To the release site!

And gone… The work of rescuing injured and orphaned wild animals is fully realized when they shed their case numbers, their care givers and their constraints and return, healthy and strong, to their free and wild lives.

We have no real way of knowing, but it has been estimated that for every animal killed by hunters, two or more are wounded and not recovered. While it matters to those few who we are able help, there is much work to be done if we are to minimize or eliminate this kind of suffering.

Meanwhile, our facility, capable of treating everyone we admit, from songbirds to aquatic birds to land mammals to raptors is open every day for those who are injured by any of the multiple and overwhelming threats that our humn built world puts in their path. Thank you for keeping our doors open. Without you, wild neighbors, like this Coot, would have nowhere to be helped.

photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX
video: Lucinda Adamson/BAX


Fixin’ a Hole where the Skunk gets in, and stop Her from Going in to Den… (or a Raccoon)

by Lucinda Adamson
Assistant Center Manager

Now is the time to inspect and maintain your home and yard to ensure that, come spring, you won’t have any unwanted wild animals raising their families in your space.

Every year Humboldt Wildlife Care Center raises orphaned skunks and raccoons, most of whom need not have been orphaned. Typically the mother was trapped and relocated when homeowners heard or saw activity in the spring, not realizing they were separating a young family and leaving 3-5 infants alone to die unless their screams for help are heard and they are rescued in time.

Wild mothers look for places that are warm, dark, quiet and protected to give birth and raise their babies. Once the babies are old enough (2-3months) they will follow their mothers out at night and the den will be abandoned until next spring. In urban environments, Raccoons may den under the house, often in the void around the bathtub, or in the attic where the entrance is hard to access and easy to defend from predators. Skunks often den under sheds or woodpiles

Walk around your property pay careful attention to these areas:

  • Foundation vents: make sure all vents are covered with metal screen. Gently push on all vents to ensure the screen is firmly attached. Any missing screens, broken screens, or rusty screens should be replaced.
  • Signs of digging:  especially around foundation, sheds, and porches
  • Mobile home or porch skirting: Make sure there are no missing boards or openings that will allow access to animals. Even small holes should be patched.
  • Attic vents and roof overhangs: Make sure vents are screened and all openings are securely covered.
  • Chimney: Make sure the chimney cap didn’t blow off in the winter storms. Bats and swifts roost or nest in chimneys and other animals could fall in and become trapped.
  • Roof: Trim back any tree branches that may provide roof access to raccoons. Never trim branches during nesting season, though!

Securing these access points will prevent wild mothers from using your home as their nursery. Since these dens are only used to raise young, winter is the best time to make any necessary repairs because it is unlikely that any animals will be trapped inside. If you do suspect an animal is actively using an opening call us at HWCC (707) 822-8839, so we can help determine when it is safe to close the opening.

A little time spent maintaining your home now can help prevent a lot of suffering for your wild neighbors come spring.

An orphaned Raccoon is released after 4 months in care. It’s better for everyone if Mama raises her own babies.

If raccoons or skunks do end up denning under your home, take heart in knowing they won’t be there for long. If you are able to tolerate their presence for a few months they will be on their way before long.

If you are not able to tolerate their presence, do NOT set a trap and do NOT call a pest control company. It is possible to convince the mother to move her babies to another den away from your home and we can help humanely resolve the situation in a manner that satisfies you and the animals. Call us and we will be happy to walk you through the steps that will work best for your situation.

As always, thank you! Your support not only helps us provide excellent care for our wild neighbors in need, but also helps us prevent orphanings and injuries in the first place! Promoting co-existence with our wild neighbors is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing.


How can you mend a broken wing?

We strive to do the best work we can, for our patients, for our community, for our Mother Earth.

We strive to improve. We strive to better translate the needs, the injuries, the desired futures of our wild patients into something that our fellow citizens of this built world can hear. It’s hard work, but not too hard. We are all allies of the wild. The wild is the first ally of us all.

Over the next few months we’ll be asking for support as we prepare for our busy and financially stressful Spring and Summer months. We need your support now. We’ll need it then. Thank you for making a difference for our wild neighbors when they’re in a jam.


A New Loon’s Year

Our friends at Friends of the Dunes called one Monday morning in the middle of January to tell us that someone had stopped by their facility, the Humboldt Coastal Nature Center, to report a stranded Loon. We were well staffed that morning so we were able to send a couple people over to take a look. All Winter long we admit seabirds into care who are struggling, for one reason or another, and wind up on the beach in serious trouble.

Seabirds, including those like Loons, who raise their young on freshwater lakes and winter on salt water bays and near shore ocean, evolved millions of years ago to a life spent primarily on water. Dense pale feathers on their ventral surface, below the waterline, keep birds warm in the cold ocean and also provide cryptic coloring against predators from below, such as sharks, sea lions, and whales, who may have a harder time detecting the birds floating above them in the light. Another change the aquatic environment has driven in some species is the placement of the pelvis and legs far to the rear of their bodies. As foot-propelled pursuit divers, loons and grebes are dramatic examples of this adaptation. On land these kinds of birds appear very awkward, often unable to stand or walk. Relatively heavy birds, on land they can be literally stranded (stuck on a strand, i.e. beach) where they need a running start across open water to gain the speed necessary for lift. Because of this many people who find them on a beach might mistakenly think the bird is suffering a broken leg!

Typically, all of these adaptations add up to the fact that a seabird on the beach needs help. A terribly vulnerable location, only a bird with no other options would chose the beach over the water, where everything that supports life is found. Injuries, contaminants such as oils that interfere with the feathers’ waterproof insulation, and illness are common factors in stranded birds, but most often, the birds we admit from beaches are juveniles spending their first winter at sea.

Struggling to feed themselves, storms, heavy surf and the challenges of learning the ropes on the job all contribute to the failures of these birds, especially in our times, when ocean health is in a critical state. Over-fishing, agricultural waste run-off, plastic pollution, derelict fishing gear and the great onrushing disaster of climate chaos make the already challenging ocean into a rapidly unfolding disaster.

When our staff arrived at the beach in Manila, they quickly found the bird, a juvenile Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica), high up the beach above the line of wrack that marked the highest tide. Quickly scooping him up, they brought the young bird back to Humboldt Wildlife Care Center.HWCC volunteer heads back up the dune with a young Pacific Loon safely in the box. (photo: Lucinda Adamson/BAX)

On the admission exam we found no real problems – just a young thin bird who’d missed to many meals. The loon was fortunate. Another day unseen and dehydration alone would have begun taking a terrible on his health. Instead, we were able to stabilize his condition and get him turned around. Within a day he was floating in one of our pools, rapidly recovering. In cases like this, fish is medicine.
Our pools are a critical part of our facility. Aquatic birds make up nearly half the patients that HWCC treats.

Typically, it takes about 3 weeks for a seabird to recover from emaciation. This bird however, was in somewhat better condition, and also individuals vary. Some just get down to the business of recovery faster, either due to relative health, certain capabilities, or any of the myriad other factors that we can sense or imagine, but may never know. In any case, after 11 days in care, this Loon was ready to go home. Besides the measurable parameters, such as body mass and red blood cell percentages that we use for all seabirds. Able to “dive like a banshee” (an in-joke here at the clinic – banshees scream; they don’t dive.), meaning when we tried to capture for an exam, he would slip beneath the water and swim laps around the pool, staying down for minutes at a time.
It’s a simple, inescapable fact that none of our procedures are done with the consent of our patient. This fact demands that we bring our A-game to all of our actions, but especially in our empathy for the indignities of our handling. Swift, gentle, decisive and accurate are the qualities we strive for in all our dealings. Acknowledging the stress and trauma of captivity that all of our patients endure so that we can mitigate their impact is an important ingredient in respecting them and providing the care they need.

So on a cool, cloudy morning we took the Loon down to the edge of Humboldt Bay for release. As soon as he hit the water, he dove, eager to rinse the stench of his caregivers from his beautiful and oceanic young feathers and get back to the business of his life, riding the wave of a second chance.

The last box this Loon will know – heading out for release.

At the release site, an HWCC volunteer lifts the Loon gently to place in the water.

And under he goes!

Back up!

And he begins to sail off, freedom and salt water and hopefully no walls confining him ever again.

Alone at last, our ex-patient starts hunting for his own fish.

So far this year we’ve already admitted over 60 of our wild neighbors, each of them desperate for care, a certain death the only other avenue. We’re committed to providing that care. We’ve built the pools; we’ve stocked the larder; we’ve trained the staff. None of these would’ve ben possible without your support. Thank you!

We’ve begun our fundraising to prepare for another busy year. We need to raise $25,000 by the end of April. This will get us through the first half of the Summer, and by then we’ll need to ask again. We hope you can help get us there! If you can, please donate today! Thank you!

photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX except where noted


Mange in Southern California Bobcats Driven by Loss of Habitat and Anti-coagulant Rodenticides

A study of a Bobcat (Lynx rufus) population in Southern California (see attached below) published in December 2017 demonstrates that urbanization (loss of natural habitat) coupled with exposure to anti-coagulant rodenticides (ARs) has led to a significant decline in their numbers, as well as untold suffering. Habitat loss and AR exposure were shown to be significant stressors that suppress Bobcats’ immune systems and organ function, thereby increasing their susceptibility to notoedric mange.

All forms of mange are caused by a parasitic, burrowing mite. Different species of mites cause different types of mange that range in degree of seriousness. Mange is spread from animal to animal with loss of habitat presumed to cause some of the problem simply by bringing individuals into closer contact. Notoedric mange is primarily a felid (cat) and rodent disease. Notoedric mange may be a significant player in the decline of Western Gray Squirrels (Sciurus griseus), who are listed as threatened in the state of Washington, and as a state sensitive species in Oregon.

Habitat loss coupled with the toxic burden of rodenticides, which are ubiquitous in California and the world, are a terrible one-two punch that is wreaking havoc on our wild neighbors.

Quoting from the study on Bobcats:

Consequently, AR exposure may influence mortality and has population-level effects, as previous work in the focal population has revealed substantial mortality caused by mange infection. The secondary effects of anticoagulant exposure may be a worldwide, largely unrecognized problem affecting a variety of vertebrate species in human-dominated environments. (emphasis added)

Bobcat kitten in care at HWCC in 2013. This young orphan didn’t make it – we suspected rodenticide poisoning. (photo: Laura Corsiglia/BAX)


BAX will be working to eliminate these poisons, both legislatively and culturally, this year and onward until the common use of them is ended forever. Your support will help our efforts. Thank you for being here. We need you.




Great Horned Owl Trapped in Duck Coop…

It must have been quite the scene! The people who found this owl inside their duck coop on their property near the stateline with Oregon said that they’d seen the bird harassing one of their ducks. The next day they found her trapped inside the coop, covered in mud, with a recently eaten duck nearby.

How the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) got in the coop is a mystery. The duck was a big Muscovy, a large breed that would have been a very unusual prey species for a Great Horned Owl. While these are fairly large owls – a typical Muscovy is still nearly twice as big. Catching food isn’t supposed to be a fight to the death.

However the owl got into the coop, the people who found her could tell she needed help. They drove the owl 100 miles south to our clinic, the only permitted all species facility on the North Coast.

During the admission process, we found no obvious injuries – just a frightened, angry, filthy, wet, big female owl.

After a few days of lightly spraying her down with water indoors to help her clean herself, we moved her to an outdoor aviary. Surprisingly, she seemed unable to fly. We hadn’t been expecting that. We took another look at her wings, her shoulders, all of the parts that allow flight. Again, we found no injuries. Since it seemed that she likely was suffering from a strain or sprain, we took her back to the aviary. Time, as it often is, would be the best medicine.

Our raptor aviary (Merry Maloney Raptor House) is small compared to wide open world but it is big enough that we can assess the flight capabilities of large birds, like this Great Horned Owl.

After a few days of eating and preening, her weight was up and her feathers were in much better shape. At this time she also began making very short flights – nothing spectacular, but enough to know that she was recovering. After a week, she was actually getting from perch to perch. Twelve days after she was admitted, her power returned.

Catching a flighted patients for her release exam is a critical part of the evaluation. She passed this aspect with flying colors.

With her flight strong and her health good, it was time to take her home. Although it had been stormy for days we got a long break in the weather mid-week and we improved it with a beautiful owl’s return to her wild freedom.

Leaving the last of a long series of boxes – some no bigger than a large suitcase, some the size of our aviary, all of them a form of captivity, an insult that ends as soon as the patient has recovered. 

Bird flying away – a heartwarming sight…

After flying away from us, the Owl first stopped in this tree to reconnoiter. This release site was very close to where she had been found so the neighborhood was familiar.

After a few minutes, she took off again, into the approaching night.

Our last glimpse before she was gone, slipped into the surrounding Wild.

A beautiful winter’s night with one more of her family home again…

So often we cannot know what happened to injure our wild patients. Context clues, such as where the animal is found, and so forth, along with statistical probabilities are often all we have to go on. Regardless, we still have to treat the animal who shows up, using solid techniques and sometimes our own intuition. It’s highly rewarding work with the only real hazard being that we might fall away from our human neighbors due to how often we must put ourselves imaginatively in the shoes of our wild neighbors. Using our imaginations in concert with good science is the highest level of thought we can achieve when providing care for our patients. This is probably true for most environmental problems that we face.

No matter what methods we use, the one thing that is indispensable is your support. You keep our doors open and our lights on for our wild neighbors in a jam. Thank you!

If you’d like to help, we could use it! Please donate today! Thank you!

all photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX


New Study Shows Very Common Pesticides Disrupt Migratory Birds’ Sense of Direction.

Many songbird populations are in steep decline. These losses have many well known causes – free-roaming house cats, buildings and cars loom large as threats – yet some of the causes remain a mystery. An alarming study published November 2017 in the journal Nature has confirmed that two of the most common pesticides in widespread use in North America and elsewhere are a very significant part of the problem. The study shows that both chemicals significantly impair exposed White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) ability to orient directionally; – a disability which would have obvious negative impact on a migrating songbird. One of the chemicals in the study also caused significant loss of body mass, also imperiling birds during migration. Impact to populations is not in the scope of this study, but the impairments that were shown, and the likelihood that these risks would be at their most threatening when Spring migration and industrial seed sowing coincide, it is easy to extrapolate the serious and tragic consequences.

Imagine landing in a freshly sown field somewhere between your gentle winter home and the fulsome days of summer – the field the only resource left after the prairies and forests were industrialized by farming – and as soon as you eat you begin to forget your way, where you were going, perhaps even why. If the poison is also causing you to starve, well, you won’t last long – a very dim bright side. In neither case will you make it out of there – make it to your destination, the place where you and your mate get about the business of bringing the next generation of your kind into the world…

A White-crowned Sparrow nestling/fledgling in care at HWCC is examined after admission. Too old to keep in the nest, too young to fly, this bird was was successfully returned to her parents. 

Songbirds moving north are on a mission – the mission of life. Exposed to these poisons, instead they stagger, lost in the vast sea of a chemically restrained Mother Earth, like Dorothy, the Tinman, the Lion, and the Scarecrow, but not done in by the poppies, but rather the chemicals that had been sprayed on them to kill all adjacent life.

For both chemicals in the study it took 2 or more weeks after their last exposure while being maintained in captivity, for the birds who were subjected to the toxin to recover their lost weight and their lost sense of direction.*** Of course, given the nature of agriculture across the so-called heart land, there is no such thing as a real-world post-exposure period of convalescence, outside of potential intervention by wildlife rehabilitators, – a shot in the dark.

White-crowned Sparrow at HWCC enjoys a mealworm before be taken back to her family.

The two pesticides in the study are both in very wide use, especially in the US, yet are also controversial for the links that have been shown between them and observed health impacts for people and wildlife. One, imidacloprid , is a neonicotinoid, such as are currently implicated as a factor in bee colony collapse disorder, among other concerns, and the other, chlorpyrifos, is an organophosphate with its own checkered past. Banned by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), after a significant legal process, at the end of 2016, under the new administration, Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Trump administration’s EPA (TEPA), reversed the process of banning the pesticide.

Neonicotinoids in high concentrations have already been shown to be among the causes of population decline in insect-eating songbirds, now this study shows that even very small amounts – the amount found on one treated seed – can impair songbirds during the most critical time in their lives, when they are migrating to their breeding grounds.

The threats posed to songbirds by society are extreme. Our human built world, in multiple ways, kills songbirds in the billions annually in just the US alone!

Human-caused avian mortality ranked by deaths annually.

How many songbirds are killed by these two chemicals alone is not yet known. But what we do know, is that the problem is huge and the very pinnacle of executive power in this nation, at least, is unconcerned, to say the least, about the fate of wild birds. If nothing else this means that co-existing, peacefully, with our wild neighbors, and the wild in whole, is always more urgent. As long as our civilization continues to advance in the direction of death and extinction, hope lies in the actions we make locally, on the ground, literally in our own backyards.

A fledgling White-crowned Sparrow successfully reunited with parents by HWCC/BAX staff.

There are many things on the list of threats to songbirds that we can reduce as we work toward eliminating, today, right now. We can respect all nests. We can keep our cats indoors (bonus, it’s better for cats, too!!!) We can stop trimming branches during nesting season. We can plant bird friendly native plants. We can slow down when we drive and we can drive less. We can help out individuals when they’re in need. That’s the primary thing that we do – help out our individual wild neighbors whenever they get caught in a jam.

Your support makes our work possible. Even if the worst befalls us, still we’ll need to care for the innocent wild victims who suffer from of our mistakes, accidents and thoughtless greed. Our wild neighbors will always need you to help when society, in ascendancy or ruin, does its dirty work. Thank you for being here. Thank you for keeping our doors open.


*** For the record, the kind of experiment performed that got these results is not endorsed by Bird Ally X. The pesticides in question have been long known to disrupt the ecological systems into which they are introduced – deliberately imperiling the lives of White-crowned Sparrows, without their consent, is not a right that people have, regardless of their intentions. This information, if it is critical to have in order to make decisions, which is anything but a foregone conclusion, must be gotten in ways that don’t violate the rights of others. Study subjects have the same rights to their independent autonomy and ownership of their own bodies that humans are supposed to have .

It’s hard to find the ground to stand on which might allow us to see whose freedom is meaningful and whose is not. We need a much clearer view of the world and our place within the living network we share. It is a common belief in public service that citizens are to be protected from “false negatives” – that is, finding no harm detected where harm does in fact exist. Our modern history is rife with examples of false negatives being foisted on an unsuspecting public with disastrous result: automobile safety, tobacco use, radioactive fallout, DDT, the list is endless. False positives, attributing observed harm to the study object in error, may be frustrating to those who want to advance on some project, or inject the latest fad into farmed fish, but it is the proponent’s obligation to prove those positives as false – it is not the public nor the agencies charged with protecting the public’s health, well-being, and rights, mission, let alone obligation, to protect companies and governing bodies from the demands of due diligence. At least the same respect is owed to the autonomous lives of our wild neighbors. We must consider them as sentient and with the same rights of existence as our own. It is the burden of those who would capture, kill, plunder, poison, for reasons noble to foul to demonstrate that consent is not needed…