A Barn Owl’s Broken Wing Heals

Like most years, this winter Humboldt Wildlife Care Center has seen a significant increase in owls admitted for care that have been hit by a vehicle.

Very often the injuries to a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) after being hit by a car are too severe for successful treatment. There is simply no chance that the injury will heal, fully recovered. The bird will never be able to be returned to the wild and free life which is their birth right. It’s a tragic thing to admit an owl, in perfect body condition, at the prime of adulthood, but with a humerus no longer attached to the clavicle, ligaments torn, the shoulder joint torn apart, no longer able to use that wing forever.

Sometimes though, a Barn Owl gets a little bit of luck.

In mid-December, a Barn Owl was hit by car on US 101 in Arcata where the highway runs past the Mad River bottoms. Bottom land, such as we find all around Humboldt Bay, is perfect habitat for rodent-eating Barn Owls. Most of the Barn Owls we admit who’ve been hit by a car come to us from places where higher speed traffic cuts through the flat ranch lands of Arcata, Hydesville, Ferndale, and Loleta.

This Barn Owl, like many who are admitted after being hit by a car, suffered a wing fracture, rendering her unable to fly. Because of her size, at the upper end of the 400-550 gram weight range typical for her species, we assumed her to be female.

The fracture was in a tricky spot. Bird wings, forelimbs evolved for flight, have bones that are fairly analogous to our arms. Like all mammals and birds, Owls have a humerus that is connected to a clavicle (collar-bone), scapula (shoulder blade) and a coracoid (only birds have this bone, which provides support for the powerful downstroke of a beating wing and is not palpable). These bones come together in a mass of complex muscles and ligaments that form a shoulder that is capable of flight. Any of these bones can be fractured and recovery might still be possible, but dislocating bones from this joint, causing soft tissue trauma, ends in a patient who will never fly again. The functioning of this joint must be perfect or flight isn’t possible. Unfortunately, many birds suffer traumatic injuries to this joint when struck by vehicles or by collisions with buildings, usually a window.

Humerus fractures can be a problem because powerful flight muscles make it difficult to preserve alignment of the pieces of bone while they heal – usually this type of fracture requires surgery – a pin or some other kind of fixator must be used for the bone to heal properly. When presented with injuries like this, we often will send our patient south to Pacific Wildlife Care in Morro Bay, where Dr. Shannon Riggs, a highly skilled wild avian orthopedic surgeon who is also a BAX co-founder, works as Director of Animal Care.

After the humerus, just as with human anatomy, a radius and ulna make up the “forewing” after the elbow just as we have a forearm. Fractures to these bones run the range of easily healed with no problems, a complete return to function, all the way to broken beyond repair with no hope for recovery. The distance of the fracture from a joint, in this case the elbow or wrist, is an important consideration. Too close to a joint and a healed fracture might interfere with the range of motion, making flight impossible.

Beyond the wrist there are a couple of fused bones, the major and minor metacarpals, which are analogous to the bones between our fingers and our wrist. Next are three bones in sequence, vestigial digits after evolving for flight. The primary feathers, critical for controlled flight, attach to the wing along the digits. For mobility, lift, control and steering, the digits play a crucial role. At one time, fractures to the metacarpals and digits were not considered treatable. Fortunately, a splinting technique was developed that has changed that. It’s a splint that we use successfully several times a year.

This owl’s left wing, far beyond her wrist, was broken at the tip of her third digit. We stabilized the fracture with the splint that had been developed especially for this type of fracture. Using a piece of bandage material specifically for splints in conjunction with the rigid flight feathers to immobilize the fracture site while allowing freedom of movement to eat and perch, the splinted wing is held in place with a traditional wing wrap. We talked with Dr. Riggs about treatment, encouraged that fractured bone of the digit would heal much more readily than connective soft tissue.

The first examination also revealed that the owl was not able to stand fully, her left leg, no doubt the impact side, was much weaker than her right. Nothing broken was found in her leg, but swelling was present. Still, as injuries go, this owl was luckier than most in her situation. With splint applied, anti-inflammatory pain meds given, and some thawed out mice, her time in care began.

On a specially prepared perch that reduces captivity related problems such as pressure sores that can develop on the bottoms of a bird’s feet when spending much more time than usual standing and not flying. Perching and other housing choices are an important part of providing effective care. Knowing the natural history of many different wild species is critical if we are to treat patients appropriate to their needs.

In our large aviary (the Merry Maloney Raptor Housing)  after getting her splint removed, the Barn Owl exhibits very good flight! 

Captured for a routine exam, we are careful not to let these feet, both the tools of her trade and her only real defense against the likes of us, grab us. Tough enough to kill a large rodent, she’d cause some serious damage to a caregiver’s hand if we didn’t treat her talons with respect.

Silently swooping across the crepuscular sky, a Barn Owl is a swift and effective hunter. Even in an aviary, this owl’s flight was awe-inspiring.

The swelling in her left leg and her reluctance to use it improved immediately. Within a few days she was perching normally, able to hop around her housing, albeit with one wing tied behind her back.

An advantage that birds have over mammals is their much greater metabolism, which means that they heal much more quickly. Break a finger skiing and you’ll be in a splint for six weeks, while birds will heal in two! After 12 days, we partially removed the splint to check the progress of healing. The fracture site was nearly stable. We re-applied the splint and set her up for another check five days later, cautiously allowing a few more days than is normally required. Meanwhile, her attitude was becoming more fierce. After 17 days, the fracture site was was fully stable. We removed the splint and took her to an outdoor aviary. Immediately she took off n flight and flew around a corner and out of our view. We brought her some mice and left her alone. In a few days, after observing her flight in the aviary, we examined her one more time. In very good health, strong and fully recovered we released her back to bottom lands she hunts.

That moment when the patient realizes she is free and acts on it is a moment like no other.
Across the field…
And up toward the trees…

Putting as much distance between us as she can before stopping…

She alights on branches at the top of these tall alders and looks back toward us, toward her captors… does she know we helped? Who knows? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that she is free, using a second chance that was given her and this is the last of her looking back…
And then she leapt back into flight and was gone… returned to her wild freedom in the real world.

Wildlife rehabilitation is at least as old as human compassion, but as a profession it’s been less than 50 years that rehabilitators have been using trainings, regulations, and professional associations to improve available care for injured and orphaned wildlife all over the country. Innovations like the splint that gave this owl her second chance are made because of support generously donated. These innovations and improvements are passed on to other caregivers and are taught to the next generation of rehabilitators using the resources that your support provides. This Barn Owl is hunting the night-time world of the bottoms surrounding northern Humboldt Bay thanks to you making sure that we are here, doors open and ready.

Barn Owls are awesome and fortunately easily observed. But it’s their proximity to us, to the hazards of our modern world that are nothing but traps to animals evolved to the standards of Mother Earth, not industrial mechanized society  that are the greatest threat. It’s up to us to do what we can to slow down, be aware of the dangers we present to wild animals and modify our actions when we can. Co-existing with Barn Owls: it’s only natural.


all photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX



Highway Nearly Claims This Turkey Vulture!

It’s a number that’s nearly impossible to pin down: the number of wild animals injured and killed by automobiles. Seldomly reported, rarely found, the victims of collisions with vehicles number at least in the millions each day in the United States alone – globally that number must be in the billions. And that number probably doesn’t include the babies back in the den, or in the nest, who slowly die when their parent doesn’t return.

Needless to say, many victims survive the impact suffering from injuries that can take hours or even days to  kill them. The casual slaughter of our wild neighbors is disregarded to the point that many people don’t even see the few victims who are dead or struggling by the side of the road.

Happily, there are some people in this world with wide open eyes and compassion in their hearts.

Two weeks ago, a young man from Hoopa, Damien Scott, was traveling Highway 299 when he saw this Turkey Vulture* (Cathartes aura) struggling in the road, near Blue Lake. Damien is no stranger to wildlife in trouble. For the last several years his mother, Kim, has worked with Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, helping us with wildlife in need in the Hoopa and Willow Creek area. Damien was a young teenager when Kim started working with us.

Now an adult, Damien acted quickly and safely, scooping the injured Vulture from the pavement and wrapping her securely for transport.

Typically a large bird like a Turkey Vulture  doesn’t fare too well in collision with speeding cars and trucks. This one was luckier than most. A serious abrasion at her right hock (corresponds to our ankle) and gurgling sound in her upper respiratory tract were the only abnormalities that we found during her admission exam.

Many people slander the Turkey Vulture: that’s simply ignorance talking. She’s a magnificent bird.

Her hock laceration, although serious, was easily treated. The gurgling sound in her breath was soon revealed to be a small amount of blood. No doubt she’d been hit by a vehicle, somehow escaping without a single broken bone.

Food, rest, wound treatment and time were all she would need.

After two weeks, the Vulture was ready to go home.

When a bird is flying this well inside the aviary, you can really begin to feel optimistic about her prognosis!

Out of the carrier and into a second chance at wild freedom!

No more boxes! Not even the frame of a photograph will contain her!

Upon release she flew immediately up into a high perch in a tree

From the tree tops this patient can survey her home area, recover her normal point of view, and relax from the stress of being held captive. And then begin her regualr life where it was so rudely interrupted.

This Turkey Vulture was lucky. A quick-thinking observant young man acted with compassion and intelligence. There is no doubt that had she stayed in the road, she likely would have died, possibly after being struck again. Even though her injuries were easily treated, she still needed the safety and seclusion of an aviary for her to recover.

Our world will always need what this bird was provided. Compassionate and concerned young people and the resources to give that concern and compassion a place in the real world to do what is needed. Your support is the critical component. Without you compassion is a curse and concern is an ache that can’t be soothed. With you, they are the the fuel of our commitments. Thank you for supporting our work.

[We need you! Our busiest time of year is fast approaching. Help us prepare for baby season! We need to raise $25,000 by May 31 2017 in order to meet the challenge of raising hundreds of wild orphaned babies. Please help. Donate here. Thank you!]

All photos: Bird Ally X


*Learn about the importance, the beauty and the overall awesomeness of Turkey vultures!


A Falcon’s Peregrination Through Recovery

As September drew to a close, on its last Monday, a young Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) was hit by a car on Samoa Boulevard (route 255) near the intersection with V street, just west of Arcata. Samoa is a highway notorious for its danger to our wild neighbors. Every day a casual survey will find the dead body of someone – a raccoon, a gull, a skunk, a coot, or an opossum – and who knows how many small birds are never seen, who’ve been hit and killed and thrown into the vegetation on either side of the road. Samoa Blvd is a ridiculous name for the route – it should be called the Wildlife Watchout.

[We need your help! We are several thousand dollars away from reaching our October goal of $7000! Our work relies completely on your support. If you can, please donate today! Every little bit helps.]

This falcon was spotted, alive, sitting by the side of the road. A kind-hearted man stopped and scooped the world’s fastest animal (242mph in a dive!) and brought him to our Bayside wildlife hospital, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center.

It is thought by some that Peregrine falcons got their name from people who captured them as juveniles who’d wandered from their nest site, since those nests were usually too remote to reach or even find. It’s not very clear if this is the case, and the source material is vague – but if accurate, since the theory alludes to falconry and the practice of stealing wild falcons and keeping them captive, then we have a parallel in our own time and place.

For many of the last several years, a Peregrine falcon pair have nested in high profile location near Eureka. Local birders and ornithologists tried to keep the site a secret to protect the falcon family from falconers who might try to steal a juvenile. As with the centuries old conjectured etymology, it would have been nearly impossible to reach the nest’s location, but as soon as the juveniles fledge (fly from nest for the first time) they would become easy targets. In fact, over the last few years HWCC has often been called in to give one or more of the young falcons a helping hand, since their first flights usually take them into the heart of downtown Eureka.

pefas-various-4-of-9A juvenile Peregrine Falcon in care at HWCC in 2012. This youngsters only problem was that her (or his) first flight from his nest landed her on Eureka’s waterfront. Too young to know better, she was easily picked up by a well-intended person and brought to us. After a day of observation to insure she was in good health, we returned her to her family.  

When we performed this Peregrine falcon’s initial examination, he (presumed male due to smaller stature) was in good health with the exception of a fractured right ulna. As fractures go, this is one of best he could have gotten. Whether bird, human, other mammal, even dinosaur, vertebrates with limbs have ulnas – it’s one of the many clues that we really are all related. The ulna is the thicker of the two bones, the other being the radius, that make up our forearm, extending from elbow to wrist. Since his radius was intact, it formed a natural splint. A couple of weeks spent with his wing immobilized, his ulna had a very good chance of healing – this bird’s prognosis for release was excellent.

pefa-2016-2-of-30Receiving  medicine during initial examination.

Keeping a fierce, wild being in a small enclosure for 2 to 3 weeks is risky – especially for the wild being. While his prognosis for recovery was good, in captivity, anything can happen – accidents with the housing, stress-related trauma – nearly every advance in the husbandry of our patients that rehabilitators have made has come at the cost of patient’s life. So with this in mind we provided a perch that would prevent pressure sores on the bottoms of his feet that can develop when a bird is grounded. We housed him in a soft-sided pen to prevent injuries to his unwrapped wing.  We kept him isolated from our noise and commotion to reduce the stress of being unable to put the distance between that he would have greatly preferred.

Every so often we checked the fracture site in order to track the healing process. At last, after 18 days, the fracture was stable with a well formed calloused around the break. We removed the wrap and moved the falcon to an outdoor aviary. To our great pleasure, he immediately burst into flight. All that was needed at this point was some time in the aviary for him to regain any lost strength and for us to make observations that let us know he would be fine upon release.

After 25 days in care, the falcon was ready to go.

pefa-2016-4-of-30Trying to evade the net while being captured for his release evaluation. 


pefa-2016-12-of-30Thinking outside the box!

pefa-2016-29-of-30A new volunteer on her first release – these moments are the joy of our work.

pefa-2016-30-of-30… back into wild, blue yonder …

While we wish every patient who’d been hit by a car that we treat could have such an awesome outcome, the truth is that it’s rare that anyone survives such an impact. But for wild animals, without someone stopping to get them help, and without people like you who support our work, none who are injured would survive. If not for you, this bird, and every other patient we admit, would have been an uncounted statistic of the damage to nature caused by civilization. Thank you for your support!

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All photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX



The star-crossed (and then uncrossed) Red Crossbill

red crossbill release June 2014 - 2The Red Crossbill, with the self-explanatory name, is a seed cone specialist.

Cheryl Henke, an ornithology student at Humboldt State University is also working as an intern at Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. Between her studies, her part time job and her schedule at our Bayside clinic, somehow she still finds plenty of hours in the week to pursue her passion for birding.

Last Friday, June 13th, Cheryl headed down to the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge with the hopes of seeing Red Crossbills. As she made her way along Hookton Road, suddenly, she spotted what she had come for – a Crossbill. Unfortunately the bird was lying in the middle of the road.

Cheryl quickly pulled over. Almost immediately a truck sped past her (Hookton Rd. is like that!) nearly hitting the wounded bird.

As soon as she felt safe, Cheryl picked the Crossbill up, noticed that he was bleeding from his head, and brought him to our clinic.

Red Crossbills are a perfect example of how animals and habitats change to fit each other. With their unique bill structure, these birds are masters at prying open the cones of evergreens to get at the seeds within.

A small laceration above the bird’s right eye produced a fairly large amount of blood. After cleaning the wound and surrounding feathers, we provided a mild pain reliever and set up the Crossbill in his hospital housing with plenty of sunflower seeds and some spruce cones to make him feel more at home.

You can support our work rescuing injured and orphaned native species. Your contribution goes directly to their care: medical supplies, housing, food, transportation and advocacy to prevent injuries in the future.

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Over the next few days we could see that the wound was minor and his attitude was major. He spent one day in our outdoor aviary flying frantically from one end to the other calling over and over. After three days in care, we decided the best course of action was release.

Cheryl was on the schedule that day and when she arrived we let her know her rescued bird was ready to go. She was thrilled. Cheryl and Laura Corsiglia (BAX co-founder and graphics director) took the Crossbill back to Loleta, off Hookton Road. As you can see in the photos below, this beautiful bird knew exactly what to do with his second chance at wild freedom.

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red crossbill release June 2014 - 8
Immediately, the Red Crossbill put his amazing adaptation to work!

(All photos Laura Corsiglia/BAX)


Friday the 13th a ‘lucky’ day for this Peregrine Falcon

PEFA release 14 June 14 - 06

Usually when a call comes in to Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, our clinic in Bayside, about a bird of prey who’s been struck by a vehicle, it doesn’t end well. So when the kind man who stopped to scoop up a Peregrine Falcon from Myrtle Avenue last Friday (the 13th) pulled up to our door, wildlife rehabilitator Lucinda Adamson was hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst.

Lucinda greeted the rescuer and went out with him to his truck.

Inside the covered bed, the falcon had gotten loose and was trying to fly.

“The rescuer called on his way to say the bird must have only been stunned,” Lucinda recalled, “he asked me, ‘should I just let him out?’ – I said no bring the bird in… might as well check him out.”

Lucinda had to get the falcon from the truck with one of our aviary nets. While the rescuer provided some basic information, she gave the bird a quick exam to see if he could be released.

Peregrine Falcons, like Bald Eagles and Brown Pelicans, were nearly extirpated in the United States due to exposure to the pesticide DDT. While other factors, such as wanton killing and habitat loss, contributed to their vulnerability, banning DDT and offering the protections of the Endangered Species Act allowed the world’s fastest animal(over 240 miles per hour!) to survive.

Peregrine Falcons were removed from the Endangered Species list in 1999.

While the population is on much better footing now, threats to individual birds still remain. Gunshot, fishing line entanglements, and vehicle strikes are common causes of injury to these birds.

This falcon, most likely a male judging from his relatively small size, was first seen in the road eating a dove. The bird’s rescuer said it caused him concern so he turned around to check on him. When he passed again the falcon was splayed on the pavement. Seemingly dead, he was easy to pick up.

PEFA release 14 June 14 - 01Lucinda Adamson, HWCC/BAX Wildlife Rehabilitator, checks the weight of the lucky Falcon (photo: LCorsiglia/BAX)

Remarkably, upon Lucinda’s intial examination, no bones were broken. The only thing amiss was a small amount of blood in the bird’s mouth, possibly belonging to the dove. She decided to keep the bird in care for observation and further evaluation. After receiving a mild anti-inflammatory and fluids, the falcon was placed into his temporary housing. Immediately he was attempting to fly from the small enclosure.

PEFA release 14 June 14 - 02An exam the next morning, so far so good! (photo: LCorsiglia/BAX)

The next morning the bird seemed as strong and determined as ever. He was desperate for freedom. An additional exam confirmed that the bird had no signicant injuries.

We took him back to the neighborhood where he was found. Lucinda opened the carrier, greeted by his intimidating glare. Once he saw his chance, the falcon sprang from the box into flight.

PEFA release 14 June 14 - 04

Opening the lid on Peregrine Falcon is not undertaken lightly! (photo: LCorsiglia/BAX)

PEFA release 14 June 14 - 05A remarkable bird. (photo: LaCorsiglia/BAX)

“He made a wide arc around us,” Lucinda reported, “calling out once as he flew.”

Peregrine Falcons have made a successful return to Humboldt Bay. We wish this guy and all of them well.

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Your support made his care possible. Thank you.

If you can, please join us in this work. Your tax-deductible contribution will help us help our wild neighbors.


(all photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX)





The Luckiest Hawk…


Sometimes you get a lucky bounce. One of the best places to hunt, especially if rodents and other small animals are your favorite, is the edge of highways… mowed shoulders and medians reveal the little ones’ movements. Light posts and wires afford good perching to watch, wait and swoop down for the meal.

Hawks, especially Red-tailed and Red-shouldered, are often seen this way – perched above our freeways.

Obviously, such a strategy carries a horrible risk. During 2013, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center/BAX admitted 9 Red-tailed hawks, 2 Red-shouldered hawks and 1 Sharp-shinned hawk that had been hit by cars. None survived.

Last Sunday, we took a call from a woman who was driving between Eureka and Arcata on US 101, near the Farm Store. She’d just seen a hawk get hit by a car. She stopped and found the bird lying still in the grassy edge. The hawk wasn’t moving except to take an occasional breath. She scooped him up in her jacket.

Our clinic isn’t far from this spot and she soon came through the door with the bird in her coat. She thought he might have a broken wing, a highly likely outcome. When we moved him to our holding incubator – something we usually do first since most injured animals are in danger of shock – the bird’s wings were held in an awkward position. It seemed as if indeed a wing had been fractured.

We gave him (on the small side for their size range so probably a male) some time in the incubator to calm down and gather his wits. After 20 minutes or so, we performed his admission exam.

He greeted us at the door of his incubator, on his feet, alert, ready to face what comes. In short, he was back.


Not a single bone was broken. There was no visible bruising – not a scratch.


We did find a brood patch, a bare area on the belly of many birds during breeding season that allows the warm skin of the parent to come in direct contact with the eggs so they stay at the right temperature. It meant this hawk is an expecting father, if his chicks haven’t already hatched. No doubt he’d been hunting for his family when he was hit by the car.


After some fluids for his dehydration (stress can make a person want a drink!), we tested his flight in our raptor aviary. He passed with flying colors, as they say.





Within the hour he was back in his territory and back at work bringing new Red-shouldered hawks into our world.



You make our efforts possible. With your support we are ready to provide emergency care to all of Northern California’s native wildlife. Thank you!


(All photos: Laura Corsiglia)