Tangled Up and Bruised

How this bird was ever rescued was the product of the two ingredients we rely on the most: the unlikely timings of coincidence and intuition combined with the intentional timing of preparedness. Early in the morning last Tuesday, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center staff rehabilitator, Lucinda Adamson, woke up early from a dream about seabirds. Now Tuesday is Lucinda’s “Saturday” – the first day of her weekend – and getting up in the early hours of the day and heading to the beach might not be the first thing she wanted to do, but she thought she might as well go have a look. So off she went, equipped wth towels and a net, in case she found any seabirds stranded.

The surf has been rough and the waves large for most of November – and our clinic has been admitting more seabirds. We currently have several in care, recently released several more and will likely see many more seabirds before the end of the year.

[Yes, we need your help! Every day of every week of every month of every year we are here for the injured and orphaned wild neighbors. From Chipmunks to Pelicans, we are ready to help who ever comes through our door! Help us meet our critical November goal of $7000 ] 

As soon as Lucinda got to Samoa Beach she found a bird. A Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) tangled in a lost scrap of fishing net. Scooping the bird up she brought him into the clinic just as staff was beginning the workday. Some mild teasing about working on her day off was in order, as we moved to admit the entangled loon.

img_4922On the beach at the moment of rescue -, any loon on a beach is a loon with a problem. If you see something say something!

Derelict fishing gear, improperly discarded fishing line, hooks, and lures are estimated to kill thousands of wild animals each year along California’s coast. At Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, we don’t see many birds entangled, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. This Loon was found early in the morning, when the tide was low, during inclement weather on a deserted beach. That he was found at all is incredible.

Fortunately, although both feet, both wings and even the bird’s head and neck were caught in the net, no injuries except for a few mild abrasions were noted. The net slipped off easily. After a quick examination, we realized that bird was indeed very lucky – no serious injuries, thin but not yet dangerously thin, and still very alert and strong. After the exam we put the Loon in our new seabird pool to test his feather condition. Again, he was in better shape than many – waterproof, immediately diving, able to stay in the cold water and thrive. Now all he needs is time to regain lost weight.

img_3640The small scrap of net that had very nearly killed this Pacific Loon.

palo-11-18-16-2-of-3A moment during the examination after three days in care.

palo-11-18-16-3-of-3In our pool, waterproof and doing well – with a good prognosis, this loon is beating the odds.

This Pacific Loon is one of the luckier victims of derelict fishing gear. Most die at sea. Loons that make it to shore are often so debilitated that their chances for recovery are poor. Less than 50% of our patients impacted by  are able to be released. If it wasn’t for your support – none would be. You provide the resources that enable us to take care of less common patients like this Pacific Loon, as well as pay staff members like  Lucinda, who’s dedication and willingness to follow her early morning intuition rescued this bird from certain death. We rely on you, now and always.  Thank you for your support!


Belted Kingfisher Says Every Day is Earth Day

(Video of release at bottom of story!)

Last Sunday, while kids scrambled for eggs, others headed to Redwood Park, and birders ventured out across the county and beyond as a part of Godwit Days, Humboldt’s annual birding festival, along the west bank of the Mad River just up from the hatchery, a Belted Kingfisher struggled at the end of a long strand of fishing line. The line was entangled in overhanging branches and the bird, a female, presumably preparing with her partner for the season of rearing young, was suspended above the river, the line wrapped around the flight feathers of her left wing.

BEKI 22 April 14 - 02

A young man, Brian, had been walking along the bank – it was a warm, bright day – and saw her struggling. There was no one else around. He called Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. He offered to wait for our rescue team to arrive on scene to show us exactly her location.

It’s a terrible thing to see a bird snared in fishing line, struggling to get free, nowhere to stand. Serious injury seems certain and quite possibly life threatening. Brian saved this kingfisher’s life. If he hadn’t seen her or hadn’t called, a long, suffering death awaited her, all due to fishing line lost into the wild and forgotten.

BEKI 22 April 14 - 03During her exam, the kingfisher was clearly dehydrated, as her “squinty-eyes” attest.

We quickly placed a net below her to support her weight while we snipped the line. No apparent injuries were seen – the line wrapped her left wing’s primary feathers, but no bones were broken, nor was any skin. She was exhausted and dehydrated. She was still willing to fight. We brought her back to our clinic.

After a complete exam – she was in relatively good shape, a healthy bird, living well – we gave her a mild pain medication and anti-inflammatory drug, warmed fluids, and a safe, quiet place to rest.

BEKI 22 April 14 - 01Kingfishers’ 3rd and 4th toes are united. We call this kind of foot syndactyl.

Two years ago, when we were building our waterfowl aviary, we included a perch high above the pool. No duck or goose would ever use it, but we know that occasionally a kingfisher will come into care. Kingfishers in their home plunge-dive, like a tern, an osprey, or a Brown pelican, for their fish. Small, powerful birds with an extreme amount of panache, in captivity they can be difficult to feed. This aviary was about to get its test.

The next day in care we gavage-fed a liquid protein diet to continue her re-hydration. She was alert and attempting to fly so we moved her to the waterfowl aviary with the kingfisher perch. Over the course of that day she improved rapidly – not well enough to be released yet, but highly encouraging.

BEKI 22 April 14 - 04Our waterfowl aviary does double duty as Kingfisher housing.

The next morning she was sitting in the early sun, on the high perch above the pool that we’d stocked with small “feeder” fish. At her morning check she flew in circles around the aviary. She was fully restored. Her flight was perfect. She was a lucky bird.

Her release evaluation was quickly completed and the kingfisher was driven back up to Blue Lake and the river above the hatchery.

BEKI 22 April 14 - 06Belted Kingfisher, on her perch in the morning sun – feeling much better!

Fishing line kills thousands of animals along our coast each year. Our annual clean-up days do a lot to raise awareness and improve the environment, but much more is needed. Every time we go into the woods, to the beach, down the river, to the grocery store, we need to see what stupid thing has been lost or littered and pick it up. What if this beautiful and fit kingfisher had gotten tangled 3 weeks from now, and she hadn’t been seen. It could easily have gone that way, and somewhere it will. She would have died and somewhere nearby, her babies would have cried for her return that would never come. Earth Day is a fine thing, but really, Mother Earth needs us every day. Just as we need her.


Your support makes our rescue and rehabilitation efforts possible. Please donate what you can. Every contribution helps us provide skilled and equipped care for native wildlife. Thank YOU!

Scroll down for more pictures and video of release.

BEKI 22 April 14 - 08Capture for release evaluation – not as easy as it looks…

BEKI 22 April 14 - 09The long path home, into the wild!

BEKI 22 April 14 - 10Arriving at the river’s bank…

BEKI 22 April 14 - 13A rare moment…

BEKI 22 April 14 - 18Happy wildlife caregivers celebrate Earth day every day!

BEKI 22 April 14 - 14Photos of birds flying away are the best!

BEKI 22 April 14 - 16Belted Kingfisher’s plea, “Don’t leave your killing debris in our river!”

All photographs Laura Corsiglia/BAX.



Hooked by Unattended Line, Western Gull Heals and is Released

At a quarter to five a couple of Sundays ago, just as we were completing the day’s tasks and getting ready to leave the clinic, the phone rang. An employee at Pacific Seafood, a fish processing facility on the Eureka waterfront, had spotted a gull nearby who was tied to some fishing line. We quickly fed the last couple of patients and headed out to take a look.

Fish hooks and fishing line cause numerous wildlife injuries. The toll fishing gear takes on marine birds, reptiles, and mammals (not to mention the targeted species!) numbers in the thousands along the California coast alone each year. (see study here) According to the Humane Society of the United States (link here) over a million marine animals are killed each year by “longline” fishing at sea.


(a collection of hooks and other items removed from patients at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center)

Hook and line injuries are commonplace for all wildlife rehabilitators, especially in locations where wildlife and people co-exist in large numbers – San Francisco, Monterey Bay, Los Angeles…

When we arrived on the scene, the fellow who called was standing a few yards from an adult Western Gull (link), who was trapped on the wharf, a hook in his (or her) neck attached to a line tied to the railing. Someone had been fishing and left his rig in the water. The gull had tried to eat the bait and gotten hooked.

We netted the gull and wrapped her (or him) in a towel. We made a quick examination to see if the hook could be immediately removed. Sometimes, with a quick snip of the barbed end, the hook comes out, and the small wound is fine to heal on its own – the bird can be released right away. In this case, however, the hook was small and difficult to see in the fading late afternoon light. For safety’s sake, we brought the gull back to our Bayside clinic.

WEGU release story 19 Feb - 1

DSC_0869Under the examination light, the small hook was easy to see. After removing it, we found a deep pocket of pus inside the gull’s mouth – an old infected injury. The bird’s feet also had early stage pressure sores caused by a life spent on concrete.

There is no getting around the fact that in a very short time modern industrial civilization has re-shaped the world that we share with other animals, other life. Derelict fishing gear, automobiles, ocean pollution, climate disruption, domestic animals, glass windows, resource extraction, – the list is long and each threat is new. All the marine birds we see today have existed as they are for at least 20 million years (Gaston 2004). Each of this gull’s injuries was the result of civilization’s altered environment.

The infection in our patient’s mouth required a course of antibiotics. We gave the first dose and set up safe housing for the night, fed some fish that had no sharp surprises, turned off the lights and headed home.

WEGU release story 19 Feb - 2The next morning we moved the bird to our aviary built especially for gulls, pelicans, and cormorants – all marine birds who spend time in and out of water. With a large pool, an artificial rock wall, high perches and a substrate (all surfaces that the birds might perch on) intended to relieve the constant pressure on their delicate feet, this aviary is a key part of our rehabilitation program. When treating wild animals, patient housing plays a leading role in their recovery.

Over the course of the next ten days the gull’s condition swiftly improved. The deep wound inside his mouth healed, the punctures from the hook healed. Her (or his) feet had improved too.

Last Tuesday the gull was released at North Jetty. Once out of the box, the bird took time to preen – which is how birds maintain their feather condition. Besides allowing flight, the feathers of all birds protect them from the elements. For aquatic birds this is particularly necessary – as warm blooded animals who live in the cold North Pacific need an impeccable array of feathers simply to surivive. Once satisfied that all was well, s/he launched from the rocks out over the inlet to Humboldt Bay and was gone.

There are many things you can do to help prevent this kind of injury to wild animals:

  • Most importantly, if you fish, mind your gear. Try not to leave anything in the environment. Line, hooks, weights, all of these can produce fatal and torturous wounds.
  • If you find derelict gear in the environment, remove it! Every hook removed from the docks, beaches and river banks is a hook we won’t ever have to remove from a bird’s mouth.
  • Pass this information along!
  • Support wildlife rehabilitation. Our ability to do this work depends directly on community support. BAX/HWCC is not funded by the county, state or federal governments. Your contribution makes our work possible. Thank you!


Release Photographs!

WEGU release 18 Feb 14 - 01
HWCC/BAX volunteers prepare to release the Western Gull
WEGU release 18 Feb 14 - 02
Western Gull steps out to freedom

WEGU release 18 Feb 14 - 05
Preening keeps feather at peak performance

WEGU release 18 Feb 14 - 07
Tail feathers? check.

WEGU release 18 Feb 14 - 08
Wings? check.
WEGU release 18 Feb 14 - 11
So long….

WEGU release 18 Feb 14 - 14
Out over the inlet to Humboldt Bay and toward the North Pacific Ocean

WEGU release 18 Feb 14 - 13
S/he returns to a wild and free life

WEGU release 18 Feb 14 - 18Good luck!


photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX

Gaston, Anthony J., Seabirds: A Natural History, 2004 Yale University Press