Did an open dumpster marinate this gull?

Western Gull contaminated by food gets emergency bath. Oil spill response techniques can be used on greasy tomato sauce too!

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On a Thursday morning in late October, Eureka PD’s animal control officer, Rob Patton, pulled up in his truck with another patient for us. He’s one of our best repeat customers. Whether a raccoon baby, an opossum, a snake, or a songbird found in the road, Officer Patton does what he can for the wild animals of Eureka who get in harm’s way.

This time he had an adult Western Gull. Elissa Blair, one of BAX/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center’s volunteer staff, had first look at the bird. Before setting eyes on him she knew he smelled like rotten meat. And when she got him out of the box she discovered he was bright orange.

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Western Gull in care, contaminated by pasta sauce?

Sometimes, it’s hard to know exactly what happened to cause an injury to a wild animal. Cat bites, window strikes, being hit by a vehicle – these are relatively easy to figure out. First theories about what had happened to this gull included dyes, paints, food coloring and more, all purposefully done by someone simply to torture this animal. Well, it is certainly true that such people exist. We treat far too may animals who were injured by intentional acts of cruelty.

But this case, a gull found near the restaurants of Old Town Eureka, the smell of rancid meat, and feathers the color of tomato sauce stains, we finally determined that the bird must have been “dumpster-diving” and gotten into somebody’s very old and discarded supper. For wildlife, restaurant grease traps and dumpsters are a source of food that can have a terrible cost. If this gull hadn’t been rescued, as weather got colder, his lack of waterproof feathers would have started to limit his choices, until he was forced to scavenge dumpsters only and rely on them for his only nutrition. Soon he would be thin and in poor health. Soon after that, he would be dead.

Fortunately, perhaps because of his orange feathers, his condition was noted and he was captured before his health had begun to fail. All he really needed was a good warm, sudsy bath.

With our extensive oil spill experience, and the infrastructure we built at HWCC for the 2011 and 2012 fish-oiled Brown Pelican response, we were able to clear up his troubles quickly.

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BAX/HWCC staff Lucinda Adamson and Elissa Blair wash Western Gull.

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It didn’t take long to get his bath water dirty!

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Now that’s a clean tail.

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Rinsing the soap out – the magical moment when clean water appears to make feathers dry!

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Internal code, and some happy talk! (all above photos: Carol Andersen/BAX)

A few days after his bath, his feathers were waterproof and he was flying around the aviary. A short visit to rehab was all he needed. We released him closer to the ocean than Eureka… he’s free, of course to return to the open dumpsters of downtown, but we’re hoping he falls in with a more sea-going crowd and lives the life of a true gull – no lasagne – just fish, crabs, and whatever other tasty treat rolls in on the surf.

Thank you for supporting our work! This gull, and every animal we treat, receives the highest quality care we can provide, thanks to your contribution!

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(All release photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX)

Remember, we rely on your support to keep on keeping on! Your tax-deductible donation is greatly appreciated!


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