Winter Showers Brought Mallard Flowers

So far in 2017 we have admitted for care nearly two times the number of orphaned Mallards as we did by this date in 2016! And 2016 had been a record year for Mallard babies, in which we also saw a dramatic increase over the previous year’s orphaned Mallard caseload!

Mallard chicks are orphaned in any number of ways – most commonly by cars and dogs. A mother Mallard lays her eggs in a hidden nest and when they hatch, she leads her precocial young to water. Along the way the new family must cross roads and backyards, both of which are fraught with danger – cars, dogs, unsupervised kids – the human built world has provided little else but obstacles to our wild neighbors.

Even now, while writing this, a group of Mallards are in the middle of being rescued off US 101 about 20 miles south of our clinic: if their mother can’t be located or doesn’t return, then those ducklings will come to our facility to be cared for and given appropriate housing for them to learn to be adult ducks.

As of today, we have nearly two dozen orphaned Mallards in care. Each day that passes we might admit another 8 or 9 who’ve lost their mothers to a car, a dog, or some other calamity. Your support makes our treatment possible.

In care at only a few days old, these orphaned Mallards find safety under a heat lamp, huddled together with a feather duster as a comfort against the loss of their mother.
Old playpens are very useful for small animal housing. They work for Mallard orphans exactly as they do for human children – keeping them safe and contained. Of course for ducklings, some crucial additions are needed – such as a small ‘pond’ filled with the most important diet item we offer – duckweed!
Boxed for daily weight checks: before these youngsters can move outside and face cold nights with no mother, they have to gain some body mass. We check them every day to make sure they’re headed in the right direction!

“I weigh about 30 grams when I first leave my egg. I gain 5 to 10 grams a day until I move outside.”

While the intimacy we share with our patients isn’t the reason we help wild orphans make it to adulthood, a side benefit of our work is the closeness to willful, untamed nature that we experience each and every day.

Tracking the progress of each patient is a critical component to providing conscientious care. Weights are recorded in each patient’s record daily, or as needed.

Once ducklings (and goslings too!) are housed outdoors, we handle Mallard orphans a lot less – as they approach their release weight, we check them only once a week. Reduced handling means wildlife stays wild!

Weight check round up! They don’t like it at all, but we do need to make sure that our care is working.

Pre-release: this is the last housing these birds will ever know (hopefully!) Our waterfowl aviary can house up to a dozen young Mallards. If the steady rise in orphaned Mallards continues, we’ll need to increase our capacity. 


Raising Mallards isn’t easy. Proper housing and diet are critical. Both of these require a lot of water. Your support keeps the water flowing and the ducklings growing! Losing your mom is pretty bad – most wild babies don’t survive such a tragedy. But at least here in Humboldt County, thanks to you, these young orphans still have a chance to live their free and wild lives. Can you help with their care? If so, donate here. Thank you!

all photos: Laura Corsiglia/ Bird Ally X

Raccoons Orphaned by Trapping in Care Now

Every Spring it’s the same story: a Raccoon is seen around the home, going into a crawlspace, maybe heard in the attic… and the human resident opens the phone book to find help. A quick call to the pest control company and soon they’re spending a couple dollars paying for that company to trap the Raccoon.

The Raccoon, eager to find food, is easily trapped (maybe not on the first try though, maybe first some other animal is trapped and loses his or her life too). The pest control company takes the Raccoon away (to be killed) and soon after, a day, two days, three days, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center gets a call: Raccoon babies can be heard behind a wall, next to the tub, in the attic – somewhere, making their small chattering sounds, hungry, cold and dying. We take those orphans into care. Without charge.  these are the lucky ones, the ones who are found. How many Raccoon orphans starve to death under houses and in attics after their mother has been trapped or shot is just anther unknowable tragic cost in world full of them.

This is exactly how our first Raccoon babes of 2017 came into care this weekend. Two days without their mother, who was trapped and killed, these babies are facing a terrible deficit. Warmth, fluids, and a gradual introduction to formula, which will sustain them until they are weaned in approximately 6 weeks, is the first step. If they make it through this process and recover from hypothermia and dehydration they’ll have another 10-12 weeks in captive care, learning to climb, hunt, fish and forage: in short, all the skills that their mother would have taught them. If all goes well, sometime in September or October, hopefully we’ll be posting a story like this one from a past Summer:

Killing mother Raccoons can be costly to a homeowner, and obviously the cost to the mother Raccoon is the greatest that can be paid, and the cost to her babies is higher than we’d wish on any youngsters. Yet, it happens every year, in every community, in every county, in every state. Every year we put out messages and pleas to not trap wildlife, especially in the Spring. In Spring, trapping a wild animal invariably leads to orphans. It is senseless, stupid and needs to stop. We need your help. Spread the word. Trapping is cruel, costly, immoral and ineffective. If you have a conflict with a wild animal, seek humane help, such as we offer every day of the year.

On this Mother’s Day, how about spreading some of that love and appreciation to wild mamas who need us to learn to live with them peacefully and humanely.

If you’d like to contribute to the cost of caring for this unfortunate mother’s young, please donate here now. Thank you!!

 

Kicking it up a notch: by BAX Co-director Marie Travers.

[editor’s note: BAX co-founder and co-director, Marie Travers, wrote this essay for the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, a remarkable network of organizations established to proved the best achievable care for oiled wildlife. This essay was written initially to time with Earth Day, which every day is. Bird Ally X is proud to be member of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.]

 

Working toward the best achievable care of the Earth through green response(ability).

I was recently asked to co-chair the newly formed Green Response Working Group and I seriously could not be more excited. I’ve been thinking about greening [oil spill] response probably since I started doing response, and am grateful for the opportunity to finally act on it. Having the ability to be able to do something nice for the planet is one of the few things giving me hope these days. In honor of Earth Day, I wanted to fill you in on what the Green Response Working Group has been up to, and share some thoughts about what I think it means to be an oil spill responder.

Here in California most of us know that Earth Day was inspired in part by the massive blowout of an offshore oil platform six miles off the California coast in the Santa Barbara Channel in 1969. Over 3,600 seabirds and countless marine mammals and fish were killed as three to four million gallons of crude oil was released, blackening 35 miles of shoreline and covering 800 square miles of ocean. Almost fifty years later, the Santa Barbara Oil Spill remains the largest oil spill in California and the third largest oil spill in US history, behind the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez. The disaster received global attention, and the powerful images of the mess and the oiled animals forced lot of people to think about their role in protecting the environment.

One of those people was Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin Senator who toured the spill site. Mr. Nelson decided to organize a national “teach-in” about the environment that he hoped would move the growing concerns of the general public onto the political agenda to encourage change. The first Earth Day was wildly successful, with 20 million Americans participating according to the Earth Day Network. The movement created public support for the Environmental Protection Agency and was part of the impetus for the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act and the Endangered Species Act. In 1990, 200 million people participated in Earth Day activities worldwide.

Forty-seven years later, Earth Day is more important and more relevant than ever, with so many of the protections we once knew being dismantled in the name of greed, and science being called into question. Earth Day is also a reminder that one person with a great idea can change the world, like Gaylord Nelson did.

I have been an oiled wildlife responder for the last 16 years and have had the opportunity to work at spills in many places, often in makeshift facilities far removed from the luxury of anything that remotely resembles a Primary Care Center or even a rehabilitation center. Some highlights include a former soy factory with a really slippery floor, and an iron ore pellet making facility where a train ran through the building several times a day 20 feet from where we were working. Everywhere I go, I am always reminded of how very lucky I am to live in California where the OWCN exists, where there is infrastructure for giving animals the best achievable care and passionate people trained to make it happen, and where there are laws mandating the clean up of oiled wildlife. We are so incredibly fortunate to live in a place where there is such an exceptional response system. Really. There is nothing like it in the world.

While every spill is different, one thing is true of all of the spills I’ve worked; There is a massive “secondary spill” created by all of the waste generated by the cleanup. According to The International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited (ITOPH), the amount of waste created just solely by the manual removal of oil from the environment is estimated to be about 10 times the volume of oil spilled. That means that a spill the size of the recent Refugio spill would generate around a million pounds of waste. Those numbers don’t even include the enormous amount of waste generated during the cleaning and rehabilitation of oiled wildlife, but I image the ratio is the same, or maybe even more. Anyone who has worked a spill lately has seen the barrels full of empty Dawn bottles, mountains of waste from food, water bottles, packaging, gloves and PPE. I don’t even want to talk about the water. All of it amounts to incredible amount of waste when there are a lot of patients and responders.

That’s where the Green Response Working Group comes in! One of several working groups created during the OWCN Wildlife Summit last fall, the Green Response Working Group has been working hard for the last few months, looking into what we can do to help curb the waste stream created during a response and help OWCN “walk the walk” of environmental stewardship while responding to spills in California.

We’ve been looking at where and how waste is generated, what kinds of behaviors and products we can change to promote green response(ability), and what small steps we can all take to create a greener spill response culture that is in line with our desire to protect the environment and it’s wild animals.

Here are a few of the things we’re working on:

  • reducing unnecessary and avoidable waste
  • protecting natural resources, like water
  • using more natural, biodegradable products that are less likely to have a negative effect on our environment
  • using fewer single-use items like plastic water bottles and utensils
  • recycling and composting
  • creating a list of green products used during spill response (to share with the network and other response organizations)

 

Our goal is to gradually introduce a greener approach to spill response by researching options and opportunities beforehand so that it’s easy to make eco-friendly choices on the fly during a spill when there is little time for decision making.

By setting an example of responsibility in action, we hope the OWCN will inspire and educate not just other spill response organizations, but all of the member organizations and the individuals in those organizations, as well.

While the Green Response Working Group is an awesome first step, the truth is that now, every day needs to be Earth Day. In order to provide the best achievable care for the Earth, we need to move away from the idea that it’s just one day of the year and think about our individual impacts on the environment every day. I feel it’s sort of a given that as spill responders we care a great deal about protecting the environment, if for no other reason than it is home to the animals that we love. I also think that knowing what we know about oil spills – their prevalence and horrible effects – holds us to a higher level of responsibility. While many people live their lives removed from nature, and need a yearly reminder of Earth Day, those of us that do spill response are intimately aware of what’s going on, and have the unique opportunity to do something about it. We should be setting an example for our friends and family, and trying to walk the walk. We have the opportunity, and I think, the obligation, to make a difference even when we’re not busy cleaning oiled birds.

My relationship with plastic has changed dramatically since I started working with wildlife. In addition to working with thousands of oiled animals, I’ve also seen countless birds entangled in plastic of some sort, especially fishing line and plastic bags. I’ve seen necropsies of birds with plastic in their stomachs. Over time I realized my plastic purchasing behaviors were harming the birds I was trying to save. Something inside me changed and now I can’t even look at a piece of plastic without remembering that it will be around forever and might end up in the belly of a majestic Laysan albatross or a tiny Red-necked phalarope someday. It informs a lot of decisions about how I live and drives my friends and family crazy. Plastic waste fills me with rage. Spills are horrible, but the spill that we are creating with plastic is chronic, and far more damaging, contributing to the slow suffocation of the Earth.

This is why it makes my heart ache to see the amount of single-use plastic we use during spills in the name of helping rehabilitate oiled wildlife. It feels to me as though we’re undoing or negating our good work by participating in an activity that promotes oil production and pollution, and contributes to killing millions of animals every year. Plastic is made from oil, and by purchasing it, we are supporting not only the oil industry but the creation of more plastic that will never go away. We may also be inadvertently contributing to the increased possibility of another oil spill by helping to drive the demand for plastic. Did you know that the manufacturing and transport of water bottles in America uses more than 30 million barrels of oil every year and produces as much carbon dioxide as 2 million cars? Or that every 27 hours Americans (just Americans!) use enough bottled water to circle the entire equator with plastic bottles stacked end to end, and that in a month, those bottles would stretch all the way to the moon and back? If that doesn’t make you want to quit plastic, maybe knowing that 90% of seabirds today have toxic plastic in their bellies will. Our actions when it comes to plastics really do matter.

During a spill we are swept into a culture of moving quickly and using the supplies closest at hand so we can be efficient and help more animals. I think it is these times that matter the most, when we can make our actions count and know that we’re doing every. thing. we. can. to do the least harm possible to the environment. I’m so excited that OWCN is taking steps to make that happen. I think we can all do better knowing what we know. A good first step, if you haven’t taken it already, is to REFUSE SINGLE USE PLASTIC.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.

– Maya Angelou

A few weeks ago I was three hours into my four hour drive to Quincy to attend the OWCN spill drill when I was called to a spill in Edmonton. I turned around and was on-site in Edmonton 18 hours later. Luckily, the spill had no impact on wildlife. Across from our hotel parking lot was this amazing mural that really spoke to a lot of the feelings I was having at the time and made me think of the Green Response Working Group, and how happy I am that it was born. By greening up our act not only as an organization, but as individuals, we can help others to do the same and try to encourage that green patch to grow. Happy Earth Day.earth day pic

Silver-haired Bat of Trinidad

Spring came early to Humboldt County this year, but it’s a kind of Spring that feels a lot like winter. Wet, windy and cold. As a result, this year we are admitting more storm-tossed and struggling adults later in the year than usual.

Such was the case for an adult male Silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans) that was found on the ground struggling the last morning of April near Patrick’s Point State Park. Cold and lethargic, we don’t know why this bat was on the ground, but we do know that his struggle was real. He was unable to get himself out of harm’s way.

While it’s certainly true that most species of bat, and many other mammals, that we might encounter potentially are suffering from rabies, statistically it is very unlikely. In bats, rabies occurs in less than one percent of their population.  Still caution is necessary. Untreated, rabies is fatal. If a person has been bitten by a bat, or may have been bitten by a bat, having the bat tested is critical! If you are ever bitten by a wild animal such as a fox, skunk, weasel, or bat, immediately seek professional health care. Rabies is transmitted by bite. If you are ever bitten by a bat, or suspect that someone else, such as child, could have been bitten, the bat must be tested for the disease. If you must handle a sick bat, always wear protective gloves, such as leather work gloves.

This bat was lucky. He did not have any of the symptoms of rabies, or any other obvious injuries. He had bitten no one. In relatively good body condition, soon the bat was alert and flying.  A warm safe place to regroup seemed to be all that the silvery bat needed.

An uncharacteristically stormy and windy May delayed release – we wanted to give him the best chance out of the box. So after nine days at last we returned to this handsome fellow to his home in Trinidad.

Lifting the bat from our transport box to place in a nearby tree: these gloves don’t just protect us – they also protect the bat. If he were to bite one of us, proper human safety demands that we have him tested for rabies, a procedure that requires his death.

On the way to a stable branch, the bat jumped from staff’s hands, preferring this bit of new growth spruce; choosing his own destiny, like any self-owned, self-willed, freedom loving wild thing would do… 

Once adjusted to his freedom, he exercised it and his wings.

Away.


This bat, like all of our patients, had his own needs in care: from considerations of his natural history and diet, to likely causes of his initial problem, to human safety concerns for handling. Every animal we care for has needs that must be met. There are few blanket answers. Most injured and orphaned wild animals never receive treatment, because they are not found. For those animals that are found, it’s critical that they get the best care possible. That’s what Humboldt Wildlife Care Center is here to do. Your support saved this bat’s life. Your support directly saves the lives of hundreds of wild animals each year, and indirectly saves thousands more. Thank you!! [Donate Today!]

Photos: Laura Corsiglia/ Bird Ally X

 

 

Orange-crowned Warbler Defies Odds

Getting hit by a car doesn’t usually end well. But when you only weigh 9 grams (about a third of an ounce) you can get lucky. At the end of April an Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata)* was found in the middle of the street near downtown Eureka. Dazed and confused, the small bird, most likely hit by a car, would have been run down again if not for his rescuer. Once brought to Humboldt Wildlife Care  Center, she was already beginning to recover. Given a mild anti-inflammatory medicine, soon she was flying inside her patient housing. After 24 hours of observation, she was her old self. We returned her to Eureka where chances are good she’s in the middle of keeping eggs warm. We’re sure her partner was glad to have her back.

Out of the box and back in the game! Orange-crowned Warbler gets while the getting is good!


It is estimated that cars kill between 90 million and 340 million birds each year in the United States alone. This number doesn’t include possible secondary deaths caused back at the nest when a parent bird doesn’t return with food forever. Who knows how many young nestlings die each Spring, starving in their nest.

At this time of year most adult birds in the Northern Hemisphere are very busy finding mates, building nests, brooding eggs and raising their young. While car fatalities can sometimes be unavoidable, increased awareness of our wild neighbors and consideration for their lives can go a long way toward keeping wild families together.

When an adult is rescued at this time of year, we don’t know how many lives might actually be saved. Your support helps keep our doors open. Your support provided a second chance for this Warbler and for all of our patients. Thank you!


Want to support our work? That’s terrific because we need you! Just follow this link to make a one time donation or to become a Sustaining Member! Thanks again!

*Correction: This story was originally posted incorrectly identifying this bird as a Wilson’s Warbler. Sorry!


photos: Bird Ally X/Laura Corsiglia

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: https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/sursco