When the Den Goes to Oakland: Three Chipmunk Babies’ Long Detour

Earlier this Spring, three very young Allen’s Chipmunks (Tamias senex) were found inside a truck that was being serviced in Oakland, about 300 miles south in the Bay Area. The truck had been in Humboldt County last so when the youngsters were taken to our colleagues at Wildcare in Marin County, they contacted us to see if we could raise them here, closer to their origin. For the next several days Wildcare staff provided ’round-the-clock care for the three babies who still had their eyes closed.

There are thirteen species of chipmunks in our state – Allen’s Chipmunks (also know as the Shadow chipmunk!) are found throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Cascades, but only in our region, between the Klamath and Eel Rivers, do they live along the coast. They needed to come home. Arrangements for travel were easily made and soon they were back in Humboldt County.

Soon after arrival at HWCC, their eyes began to open.

Over the course of five weeks, HWCC/bax staff and volunteers took care of these three little members of squirrel family. As they aged, gradually they were weaned from a milk replacer onto a natural diet. At first they required several feedings throughout the day, with staff trekking back to clinic long past dark to do late night feedings, and arriving earlier than usual to feed them close to dawn.
Everyday we make formulas for our patients to replace their mother’s milk. 

Once a chipmunk knows where the food is, they eat very well.

A unguarded moment.

Besides their nutritional needs and other aspects of their health care, we also had to provide an environment where they could learn to live on their own, find the food they would need, so they could succeed in the world their parents had planned for them – a world where they could meet their own kind, and have a second chance to live their birthright, wild and free.

Once their eyes opened, we began to offer the young forest dwellers remnants of home and an expanded menu.

While out of their housing to be fed, our patients are provided with any treatments they need. Daily weight checks at this time help us track their progress and health.

Your support keeps our doors open and our clinic functioning. Without you, our wild neighbors would have nothing in thier times of distress. Thank you! Please donate what you can.


Not yet fully weaned, they are given even more room, more comforts of home, and more diet options.

For their last week in care, the young chipmunks were fairly independent. We’d moved them to outdoor housing when they were weaned where they were provided extensive privacy and natural foods such as berries, mushrooms, grass seeds and insects. After proving they could thrive in the more challenging environment, they were released.

We released them on the bank of a forest stream. We left them with a small amount of seed to see them through the early stages of exploring their environment. We left them confident that they knew what to do next with their freedom.

A last glimpse… we transported the chipmunks to their release site in the small shelter we’d provided them in their outdoor housing – now when they emerge the only difference will be freedom!

Your support is what makes wildlife rehabilitation possible. Whether you are in Marin County and you support Wildcare, or you are on the North Coast and you support HWCC/bax, or wherever you are, without you the work we do – at home and in partnership with our colleagues across California – would simply not be possible. You make it happen with your generosity. Thank You!!

Interested in becoming a sustaining supporter? click here


VIDEO: Wild Babies 2018: URGENT! Your help needed!

We live in a time when normal cycles are thrown off kilter; when our climate is unpredictable and in its place all we have is the weather. But amid all this uncertainty, one thing is certain: the Wild still struggles to survive and thrive, even if the world has gone mad. Adult animals still raise their young each Spring, and likewise our human-built world still presents them the usual challenges. Mother raccoons are still trapped and their babies orphaned. House cats still kill birds who leave behind a clutch of hungry nestlings. Ducklings still get separated from their mother when they try to cross the streets to reach rivers, ponds and bays.

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In the best of times, our Spring baby season is hectic, overworked and the most expensive part of our year. In the worst of times, it still is, but the stressors are increased. No matter what the situation, we have our work to do. Yet as predictable as our increased caseload is, each year we struggle to cover our costs. Each year we start the baby season already under the gun: underfunded, with our cupboards nearly bare. This year we need to make a change. We need to secure the resources we’ll need to get us the next 5 months. If past years are an indication, between now and September we’re going to admit nearly 700 patients, answer over 7000 phone calls. We’re going to feed over 1000 pounds of fish, over 300 pounds of squash, over 200 pounds of milk replacer and use $2500 worth of electricity.

Our goal is to raise $25,000 to help cover the costs of our season and provide a buffer against any emergency that arises.

We’re not going to do this without your support!  In this video, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center director, Monte Merrick takes you on a video tour of our facility and makes a plea for your support. We can’t do it without you! Thank you!


A Long Road to the Sky, a Nestling Northern Spotted Owl Makes it Home.

It was at the end of June 2017 when we got a call at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center from a local team of biologists who were banding Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) nestlings deep in the forest along the Trinity River. They had a nestling owl with an injured wing. They couldn’t leave him in the nest, and they wanted to know if we were able to treat him. Of course we said that we could. The nestling owl was brought in to our clinic later that day.

Upon admission, we opened the transport box and found fourteen ounces of fuzzy feathered fury. Indignant, terrified and presumably hungry, the small wild owlet whose short life had taken a very terrible turn, was not interested in making life easier for anyone. He struggled frantically as we moved him from the box to our initial housing. This one was going to be a handful, no doubt about it. We hoped his exam would reveal a simple injury that would heal easily with non-invasive treatment.

First day in care, the young owl right before our initial exam. We don’t know how severe his injury is yet and we’re hoping for the best.

A nestling owl’s first day in care, during admission exam.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. The injury, a fracture of a digit, was severe enough that surgery would be required. We wrapped the young bird’s wing with a supportive bandage, and with the approval of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, made arrangements for the youngster to travel far out of his range. We sent him to Morro Bay, 9 driving hours south, where BAX co-founder and skilled avian orthopedic surgeon, Shannon Riggs, DVM, is the director of animal care at Pacific Wildlife Care.

Northern Spotted Owls are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act as well as the California Endangered Species Act (currently being petitioned to be moved into the more urgent “endangered” designation). Threatened and Endangered Species get special consideration. We notify the state and federal agencies whenever we admit a patient who is under this kind of legal protection. Here at BAX, we support the most urgent protection of the habitat that these icons of our ancient forests require.

Even with surgery needed, we still hoped that the young bird would make it back to the wild in time to be rejoined with his siblings and his parents. Birds generally heal much more quickly than mammals, and we were optimistic that within 3 weeks, he would have recovered from his injury and treatment and be able to go home.

But an easy fate was not this owl’s destiny. In every situation he fought for his life out of mortal terror. It’s a hallmark of many species that a major milestone in the life of juveniles as they grow toward adulthood is learning to conserve energy. Juveniles try anything, no matter how much effort is needed, often failing. A successful adult has learned the importance of energy conservation. As an example an adult Brown pelican plunge dives in neat straight lines and will abort mid-dive if chances of successfully catching the fish worsen. Wasted energy doesn’t help fill the belly. Meanwhile juveniles thrash, and flap and hit the water from any angle every time they dive. The awkward failures of juveniles often seem comical, but those who don’t learn to conserve energy and wait for the auspicious moment may not survive to adulthood.

This same juvenile headlong rush into action applies to attempts to defend themselves from threats. Whether struggling to escape or struggling to strike out, juveniles are simply much more of a handling concern than adults. Adults have learned to assess the situation – perform a basic cost-benefit analysis – before taking action, conserving energy for the moment with most likely chance for success. A juvenile owl, terrified and with talons, may launch himself or herself into battle with sure defeat, simply due to inexperience. Add to this problem that all captivity is a threat to wild animals, no matter how safe for our patients we try to build our facilities, a juvenile with only fear and the desire to get away is especially at risk form captivity related inkjuries.

This owl, as soon as his initial injury had healed, seized an unguarded moment as he was waking up from anesthesia after a procedure and flung himself from his recovery chamber to the floor, breaking another bone! Fortunately it wasn’t a life-ending injury, but it was a setback – this meant that the owlet might not make it back to his nest before his family would be dispersed.

Adding to the injury, this owlet never accepted his captive fate, and struggled against it daily. This had caused feather damage, which needed to be addressed before he could be released.

Because we often admit patients who are so badly injured all we can do is help end their suffering, we do have access to donor feathers. We had a complete set of Spotted Owl flight feathers that had been taken from an owl that had been hit by a vehicle and brought to our clinic. We sent these feathers to Morro Bay where they were used to temporarily replace those that had been damaged by this fierce young owl who never says die.

Learn more on how donor feathers are used in a process called imping here.

Soon the owl was flying. He’d recovered from his two fractures, his damaged feathers had been replaced, he’d gotten older and it was time. For a couple of months the owl was provided with flight training in Morro Bay. Dr. Riggs was cautious regarding his flight capabilities and wanted to be sure that his injuries had healed well enough that he would be able to keep himself aloft once free.

At the beginning of the new year, at last we began to make plans for his return north, to HWCC.

There was one last obstacle to overcome before this owl could be released back to his rightful freedom. We needed to know that he could hunt. So far, he’d only eaten the food his parents had brought him while he was in the nest, and the thawed frozen mice that he’d gotten during his treatment. A predator needs to be able to hunt as much as see, fly or any other crucial activity. A Spotted Owl who cannot recognize live prey, can’t find, kill and eat small rodents, is not going to thrive in the wild. Six months after the initial injury, we now prepared our aviary here in Humboldt for the young owl’s return to our facility and we began to strategize a program of hunter’s education.

In order to respect privacy, reduce stress, and ensure that the live prey were not associated with the human caregivers who entered the aviary, a special feeding door was installed in the aviary so that mice and rats could be offered from our unseen hand.

At first we offered them in a very exposed container. We wanted the owl, just like any novice student in any subject, to have early successes that would build confidence for when the circumstances were more difficult.

Our basic strategy was to provide the setting, the stimulus and the opportunity and allow his own instincts to lead him. Once he mastered the art of taking a live mouse as prey that had no where to run or hide, we added materials that the mouse could use to avoid being seen. At the same time, we discontinued all dead food items. The owl had to survive on what he caught and ate. We monitored for weight loss, and of course we tracked the number of mice as they went missing.

After ten days, we gave the mice free rein in the aviary. Our aviaries are built to keep other animals out, including mice and rats, so, like a boat that holds water in as well as out, we were confident that the mice could not escape. But they could burrow in a few inches of leaf and soil before they hit a mouse-proofed aviary floor. We have landscape areas of natural plants in our aviary that the mice used. Often there were times when staff was unable to see the mice. Our young owl didn’t have that problem. His weight, now that he was fully grown, stayed stable. For three weeks this owl fed himself on the mice he captured and killed. At this point we were confident in his abilities.

It may seem obvious that a hunter needs to be able to hunt, but it is not without sorrow that we took these mice to their end as dinner for an owl. But we are by vocation and avocation wildlife rehabilitators, and wildlife rehabilitators do not argue wth nature. We help Nature heal using Nature’s own methods as much as we can. In order to treat and release orphaned wild predators, we must provide them the opportunity and environment in which they can to learn to hunt.
Making it a little harder: grasses and other materials that the mice can use to hide from the owl are added to the bin.

After our patient was successful at hunting the mice in the tubs, we removed the tubs. For over a week the young owl thrived in this scenario, even gaining weight in the last week in care. 

We built this aviary, designed by BAX co-founder January Bill, with the intention that it be an excellent environment for both recovering adult raptors and learning orphaned raptors. We’ve had it for five years now, it’s a critical part of our program, having helped provide an environment that encourages recovery with excellent results and hundreds of successful patients. 

In our aviary our patients have a pastoral view at the mouth of the Jacoby Creek watershed. We strive to protect and respect their wild nature and offer them all the solace and comforts of their wild home that we can. Our young owl patient nearly always chose this location to roost.

Moments before his last exam. After three weeks of only eating what he found for himself, we are preparing for his release back to the area where he was originally found, early last summer, 2017.

Staff attempts to net the young bird for his release evaluation.

Fight/flight mechanism mean more when you can actually fly!

Six weeks after this owl returned to his home county, and three weeks after he was fed his last pre-killed mouse, he was in the best shape of his young life, – his wild personality intact, his chances as good as they were ever going to be. We took him back to the Trinity River, close to his original nest site, and restored his freedom. Will he ever re-unite with his parents or siblings? Not likely. His family almost certainly dispersed at the end of last Summer, his siblings independent by September. Now he gets his belated chance, too.

A last, low light view of our young graduate of hunting school – now he fades back into the surrounding and surrounded wild, home where he belongs.


It was quite the journey for this young fellow traveler of Earth’s travails* to reach his final act of fledging, to leave not his nest but his captivity. While it would have been better had he never been injured, his time in care, although fraught with setbacks, and times of deep anxiety over his fate, was beneficial. We learned a lot about providing the type of care this patient required, specialized, an individual with his own personality, fierce, aggressive, ready for the terms of the wild – the blaze of reality – where it’s always a matter of life and death.

Your support keeps our door open and our lights on. Your support builds and maintains our aviaries, our pools, our incubators, our orphaned mammal nursery, our baby bird  room. In these troubling environmental times, your support lets us know that our work has meaning and value. Your support reminds us that, like us, our neighbors love the wild. Thank you for being here for us. And if you’d like to help, please, use this button to make a donation today! Thank you!

all photos Laura Corsiglia/BAX

*From Henry Beston’s classic, The Outermost House, (1928)

“Touch the earth, love the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills, and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places. For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and the dawn seen over the ocean from the beach. 

When the Pleiades and the wind in the grass are no longer a part of the human spirit, a part of very flesh and bone, man becomes, as it were a kind of cosmic outlaw, having neither the completeness and integrity of the animal nor the birthright of a true humanity.

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”


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