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

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

What Tool Saves the Most Wild Lives? (hint: you may be reading this on it right now…)

The answer: the telephone!

At Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, BAX treats well over a thousand wild animals each year, animals who would have certainly died without our help. When we think about the patients that have passed though our clinic, over the years, and gotten a second chance at wild freedom, or even those who we’ve been able to at least end their suffering, we are staggered by the numbers.

Still this number is very small compared to those we’ve helped without ever laying a hand on them.

Each day, staff at our Care Center answer calls from people all over our region who have encountered or have a conflict with a wild animal. Often these callers are frustrated and may even have very negative feelings about the animal –  a skunk in the yard that frightens their dog, raccoons getting into a crawl space, birds nesting in a chimney. Some callers aren’t hostile toward wildlife, but concerned about a possible problem – a deer fawn found along a trail while hiking, a skunk out in the daylight during baby season.

We get thousands of these calls yearly. No matter what the nature of the call is, it’s our task to make sure that each situation resolves peacefully for the animal. There are plenty of resources available for solutions that result in wild animals being killed – trapping and relocating, trapping and killing, shooting, poisoning – all manner of inhumane solutions can be found easily. Peaceful and humane resolution of conflicts between people and the Wild, however is strictly the name of our game.

Every Spring, our volunteers have a chance to practice the delicate art of advocating for and protecting our wild neighbors, and keeping wild families together. Bird Ally X produces several workshops for our staff and volunteers, as well as wildlife rehabilitators from around the state and nation. Our phone workshop is one of our most critical trainings. While the direct care we provide is important, good work done on the phone can prevent many of the injuries and deaths before care is needed. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Last weekend, we offered this workshop to our newest volunteers. e were fortunate in that we had a nice Sunday afternoon, no wind or rain. We had a good time practicing these skills, using real world examples, and learning how to be powerful advocates for and protectors of our wild neighbors.

Describing the resources we rely on so that our volunteers are confident that they can give sound advice.

Demonstrating a typical call.

Because of the nearby Humboldt State University and the attraction of the Redwood Coast, our volunteers and neighbors come from around the world and around the state, bringing a wealth of experience and commitment to our work. Without volunteers, there would be no care for wild animals in need.

In the real world, you can always “phone a friend.” A workshop participant seeks advice while in the middle of his call.


The workshops we produce are a critical part of our mission. Not only are we committed to providing the best care we can, we also strive to make improvements in our field and help develop the next generation of wildlife care providers. Your support allows Humboldt Wildlife Care Center to provide direct care for wild animals in trouble, prevent injuries with our Humane Solutions program, and also, help protect the future of wildlife care with trainings and workshops. And as we enter our busiest season, the skills our volunteers learn will serve our wild neighbors immediately as well!

As always, it’s is your support that makes this possible. We are a very small organization facing global problems as locally as can be imagined. Our work is possible, our facility exists, next generations learn, because of your support. Thank you!


We need to raise $25,000 by May 31, 2017 in order to be ready to meet the challenge of our coming busy season… our region’s injured and orphaned wild animals depend on you. Please help if you can. Follow this link to donate now or become a Sustaining Member with a monthly donation.

 

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!

Going Home to Ferndale: a Young Hawk’s Story

Goin’ home to Ferndale, I’m healthy and I fly
Goin’ home to Ferndale, I’m healthy and I fly
If you ever want to find me, I’ll be in the sky…

The property owners in Ferndale had seen the young Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) for a few days. They thought something was the matter with him. He’d been hanging out by the side of the road, often on the ground. Each time they approached he would fly up onto a fence post or tree branch. Then, a few Fridays ago, they called Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. He was on the ground not flying at all and they were sure he needed our help.

[Speaking of needing help – we need yours! Our work is funded by your generous support. Our March goal of $7000 has not yet been reached! We still need nearly $1000 – please help us it! You can donate right here. Thank you!] 

Clinic staff drove to Ferndale and easily scooped up the ailing hawk. In the exam room, we found a very skinny bird, with a few lacerations ranging in seriousness, but all easily treated. The wounds were old, with some necrotic tissue, and emacation doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s hard to say what came first – his failure to provide himself with dinner, or his injuries. Nothing else appeared to be the matter.

The young hawk’s admission exam – alert but weak, none of his ailments were life-threatening by themselves, but compounded they had him on the brink of death. (photo: BAX/Gisele Albertine)


After cleaning and dressing his wounds, the hawk was put on a course of anti-biotics. With emaciated patients, their digestive system can be so compromised that they need a special liquid diet, not unlike a protein shake, before they can eat their natural food. We determine what to offer for food based on many things. An important factor is found in basic blood work, percentage of red blood cells and total dissolved protein. His blood work was actually pretty good – good enough that we could offer whole food immediately, which he immediately devoured.

After a few days of good food and quiet recovery, his wounds were healing and he was strong enough to be housed outdoors. Here he steadily regained strength and gained weight in an impressive display appetite and vigor.

Still, his reluctance to fly, although he had no injuries that would prevent flight, let us know that his strength and stamina were still low.

Our aviary faces a grazing pasture that rarely has people in it – just cattle. Our patients enjoy a quiet, safe place that is still connected to the outside world. Stress reduction is a key part of our treatment plans for all patients.

In the aviary, not really flying yet – when we would go in to get him for a check up he would flee from us on foot…


For the first week outdoors he did little more than hop when provoked. He was an impressive hopper, but hopping is not flying. It may seem obvious, but flying is when you stay up in the air on your own power. Most mammals, such as ourselves, have no personal experience of this.

It can be disheartening, tracking a patient’s progress when they simply don’t start to fly. When you watch a bird leave a perch, if all they do is glide to the ground, that’s not flight. Some species of squirrel can do that. Our responsibility to our patient prevents us from wishfully seeing flight where there is none.

However, just as his wounds had quickly healed, and his appetite had returned, and his weight climbed back to normal (from 600 grams to 1100!), when he began flying again, he did so with gusto!

This is flight!

After recovery and conditioning, he passed his release evaluation with flying colors!

Back to Ferndale – home again… Ferndale rats beware!


And here we left him, back where he belongs.


This Hawk, a youngster, most likely about a year old, was different than every other patient – his recovery was his own, he has his own story. Yet he’s also the same as every other patient – from the common wounds and illnesses that we frequently see and treat, to his needs as a wild animal who requires freedom as much as he requires protein. His rehabilitation wasn’t by the numbers, nor was it really very different from any others’. He is unique and ordinary – like each of us – and his care mattered the world to him. There is one more hawk still in this sweet old world, thanks to the people who watched him and knew that he was in trouble, to the advice they got to call us, and to your support that keeps our doors open and our aviaries ready. Thank you for helping us help this Hawk.

[Want to help? Donate here. Thank you!]


All photos: Bird Ally X/ Laura Corsiglia, except where otherwise noted.

Caught in Grease Trap, A Healing Pigeon’s Grace

Caught by a camera in preparation to fly, our recovering Pigeon patient cuts a fine figure of power and grace.


Just over a week ago this Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) was found in the parking lot of Eureka Natural Foods, contaminated by cooking grease, missing all the feathers from their back and covered with first and second degree burns (read story here). After a bath and safe place to recover, this patient is doing very well and is nearly ready for release back into wild freedom. Your support makes all of our work possible. From Bald Eagles to Rock Pigeons, you keep our doors open and our staff ready. Thank you!

Want to help us reach our fundraising goal for March? We still need to raise $2000! Click here to donate today. Thank you!!

photo: Bird Ally X

Wild Baby Season is Coming!

The earth rolls around the sun dipping first this hemisphere then that one toward the light and the wild animals follow suit. Summer birds have already begun to return to the North Coast. Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) investigate the old cavities where they may have raised last year’s young. Ravens (Corvus corax) fly though late Spring winds with sticks for their nests held tightly between their bills.

Mother mammals are on the move, seeking safe places to give birth. This year everyone is in  a hurry to bloom and leaf!

All of  this means that our busiest season is about to start. Each year we treat around 1200 animals. Nearly half of these patients come in during the months of May, June and July. While we stive to reduce the number of our wild neighbors who need help,  through public education and good phone consultation to resolve human/wild conflicts, still our caseload and our costs will predictably skyrocket in the coming weeks.

We will be reaching out to you frequently, asking for help. Financial contributions of any amount are critical. We’ll also be asking for donated supplies, like goat milk, produce, sheets, towels, vinegar and baking soda – all things that are crucial to our daily operation!

Nestling Swallows (2015) receiving their regular feeding – soon these birds would fledge into our Songbird aviary where they continued to be fed while they learned to fly and eat on the wing.  
Common Murre (Uria aalge) chicks, separated from their fathers at sea, too young to provide for themselves. Each year we raise any number of these oceanic birds, depending on the how successful the year’s breeding season is… last year we raised 6, the year before, 30.
Every year for the last 5 years we’ve provided safe haven and bits of mouse for a Western Screech-owl (Megascops kennicottii) chick found in Fortuna’s Rohner Park

Every year we care for several Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) goslings who’ve been orphaned by the highways that separate their nest site from the water. Parents killed trying cross US101 leave chicks scurrying in traffic – a dangerous situation for all. If safely captured, the young geese will come to our facility in Bayside.

The most common reason for young Opossums (Didelphis virginiana) to be orphaned? Their mothers are hit by cars while they’re still in her pouch. Each year we admit over 50 babies! 

Black-crowned Night-Heron(Nycticorax nycticorax) chick’s life took a turn for the worse when s/he was knocked from the nest high above the beach at Moonstone during a wind storm. This yung bird ate a lot of fish!
Every summer we save lives, preserve wild families, and give unfortunate victims of accidents and human intervention a second chance. This juvenile Hermit Warbler (Setophaga occidentalis) whose nest was disturbed in the Arcata Community Forest. An improvised substitute made from a basket lined with twigs and mosses was placed high in the tree  above where the young not yet flighted bird was found. Soon parent birds were seen bringing food and resuming care. Reuniting wild babies with their families is an important and frequent task throughout Spring and Summer.
Each year Raccoon (Procyon lotor) mothers are shot, trapped, poisoned and otherwise mistreated in ways that leaves their babies behind, often stuck in an attic or a crawlspace and left to die. When they’re lucky, someone hears them, finds them and brings them to us. Almost every single orphaned raccoon we care for could have been raised by their mother if only people would take basic steps to protect their property by preventing Raccoons and other animals from getting in, or seeking advice before acting irresponsibly and resorting to lethal solutions. Providing care to orphaned Raccoons isn’t cheap! Usually they are in care 4 moths before they can be released. Each baby costs nearly $500 to raise successfully and we raise over 20 of these curious Earthlings each year!


Every year our busy season has the added stress of paying for food and medicine, the water bill, the electric bill, staff salaries. Scrimping and saving is good and necessary, but so is knowing that our basic costs are going to be covered. It’s good to know that if an unexpected major expense comes up – like last year when we treated a lead-poisoned Bald Eagle whose care required six months of recuperation – that we’ve got it covered.

So, we’re launching a special Baby Season fundraiser.* Our goal is $25,000 between now and May 31. That’s 9 weeks. $25,000 will keep us going through early Spring and leave us ready to take on the most hectic months of our year with something in reserve, reducing our stress so that we can be better care providers. It costs us about $12,000 a month to operate during the Summer. Your help is vitally important. Without your generosity… well, let’s just say that we are grateful that you’ve kept us going this long and we look forward to your continued support. Let’s make this the best, least stressful Wild Baby season we’ve had. Thank you!!

*By the way, we are still a couple thousand short of our March goal of $7000. Want to help us reach it? Donate here. Thank you!!

 

photo: Bird Ally X/ Laura Corsiglia

A Young Bald Eagle, A Difficult Case, A Slim Chance.

Usually we share our successes. Now and again we might share stories of patients whose injuries were so severe that the only care we could provide was to end their suffering, but we don’t often take our supporters and community members through that process. It’s our task and we perform it as we need to, without regret, because it is a simple fact of wildlife rehabilitation that most  of our work consists of ending the suffering of animals still alive but battered, sometimes beyond recognition, let alone repair.

Also, we don’t often share the stories of animals who are still in care. The primary reason is that for wild animals, captivity itself is life threatening. The stress of being in a caregiver’s hand can be too much for a songbird – sudden misfortune, or setbacks in care, can derail a patient’s recovery. Building expectations of happy resolution that doesn’t come seems unnecessary.  Also, it’s simply a cultural standard that we don’t count our proverbial chickens before they’ve hatched. 

So, with all that in mind, here is the story so far of this Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) who we admitted for care a few days ago.


Last Friday evening, BAX co-founder Laura Corsiglia and one of our long time volunteers met a Warden from California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) in Willow Creek to accept a Bald Eagle who’d been in care in Weaverville since June of 2016.

Our first glimpse of young Bald Eagle, after meeting CDFW staff in Willow Creek. Although young and disabled, this bird is still formidable!


It is unknown how the young Eagle was injured. According to the Trinity Journal, the fledgling was found at Trinity Lake at the bottom of a tree with an Eagle nest, suffering with multiple fractures of his left wing. (While it isn’t certain, we believe the bird is a male based on his size which is at the smaller end of the spectrum of Eagle sizes.) At the time he was found, a CDFW warden in the area took the fledgling to a veterinarian in Weaverville. Near death due to dehydration and lack of parental care, the Eagle was stabilized by the staff.

For reasons we are not sure of, the Eagle’s treatment continued in Weaverville over the Summer of 2016 into the Winter. In December CDFW staff attempted to transfer him to our facility in Humboldt County (Trinity County is our neighbor to the East) but a rock slide had closed Highway 299 east of Willow Creek, barring passage. Several attempts were made over the next few months to get past the slide during temporary openings without success until last Friday, the 10th of March.

Once in care, immediately BAX staff could see that this Eagle’s left wing was seriously damaged. Multiple fractures to the humerus, radius and ulna have healed with very poor alignment. His wing cannot function at all, nor can he hold it in anything close to a normal position. At this point, only extensive surgery could save this bird’s life let alone help him recover to the point of being releasable.

Our patient after his first day in our care. We immediately contacted the wildlife biologist at USFWS responsible for Migratory Bird permits who grants our permit to rehabilitate birds. We stay in close contact with her any time we treat a specially protected species (most birds are protected under various laws, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act) such as the Endangered Species Act, or, in this case, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.


However, this Eagle has been in care for nine months, and since we have one avenue that may give him a chance, we’ve decided to try even though it’s an extremely long shot. Bird Ally X co-founder and co-director, Dr. Shannon Riggs, DVM, who is Director of Animal Care at Pacific Wildlife Care near San Luis Obispo, is a highly accomplished avian orthopedic surgeon – her evaluation of his wing and his chances for a successful surgery are worth seeking. With the approval of the USFWS we’re transporting this bird to her care at that facility this week.

He has a difficult road ahead with the odds stacked heavily against him. If he were a patient like any other, we would likely have already made the decision that further treatment would be unlikely to help and would only compound the misery of captive life.

While his prognosis for recovery is very poor, and his current condition is so poor that humanely ending his suffering may be the only possible outcome, we believe it is worth it to exhaust all possibilities. We will be posting updates as his care proceeds.

The damaged wing is presumably painful and drags on the ground causing secondary wounds. Soon, however, this limbo will end – hopefully with good news, but at least his suffering will be over no matter which direction his care goes.


The care for any injured and orphaned wildlife here on the North Coast wouldn’t be possible without your support. For this patient, when we factor the cost of transport to a facility 500 miles away, the cost of surgery, the cost of rehabilitation post-surgery (here’s hoping!) we will need your help more than ever. We already have a goal for March of $7000 that doesn’t include the care of this young Bald Eagle. Want to help? Donate here. Thank you for supporting our work!

photos: Bird Ally X/Laura Corsiglia

One Western Grebe Improves Care For All

A storm-tossed Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) was admitted last month at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center.

Western grebes are relatively common birds on the Pacific coast in winter where they can often be seen in the salt chucks, bays, lagoons, and the ocean, often in large groups, just beyond the breaking waves. We treat many each year. Last year we provided care for nearly 30 Western Grebes. 2014 was a bad year for these elegant aquatic birds – we treated 97.

Because Western Grebes are frequent patients, we generally have good results treating their most common ailments, parasites such as tapeworm, emaciation, and loss of waterproofing due to contamination.

In most ways, the Grebe that came in last month was an ordinary patient. Found on the beach in Trinidad, small abrasions under her lower bill had bled and soiled her neck feathers, which caused her feathers to lose their waterproofing. But that wasn’t her primary problem. Her biggest problem was that she is a juvenile who’d been facing her first winter of independence. This year’s exceptionally stormy season got the better of her. Emaciated, dehydrated, and wet, she didn’t stand a chance without rescue.

But in one critical way this Grebe’s treatment was unusual.

Many of the aquatic birds we treat are piscivores, or fish-eaters. Ordinarily, it is the protocol in successful treatment of highly aquatic birds who require pools to offer these patients fish with low fat content. Pool water quality is important to protect and fish with higher fat content has caused problems, the fish oil contaminates the pool water and in turn contaminates the feathers of the patient, which disrupts the carefully maintained waterproofing. In the wild, these contaminants lead to death. Oil isn’t water-soluble. A detergent of some kind is required to remove it. Once oiled, a bird needs to be cleaned.

Caring for aquatic birds is a specialized skill precisely because of their need for water. Pools, water quality, feeding techniques are each crucial elements in providing care, as are the efforts we make to protect our patients from the harm that can be caused by holding aquatic patients out of water. On land and inside our building, birds who typically float on water their entire lives, are highly susceptible to pressure wounds, respiratory infections, and other secondary problems caused by their time in captivity.

An aquatic bird housed in “dry-dock” needs protective wraps to guard against injures from even the softest solid surfaces. Even with these measures, the patient still must get back to water quickly.


Most of the techniques and protocols for rehabilitating injured aquatic birds come from oil spill response. During an oil spill, sometimes thousands of birds might be impacted. The techniques developed to increase success with such large caseloads is the basis for most current aquatic bird care. Generally we follow them with predictable and largely positive results.

However, something very unusual happened in 2016. The low fat fish we feed our patients, Night Smelt were no longer available. Our supplier said there would be nome until April, and that wasn’t even certain.

Fish populations across the oceans are in trouble, of course. Rising sea temperatures, plastic pollution, over-fishing, agricultural waste run-off, acidification are all wreaking havoc on the marine environment and the health of Mother Earth.

So, we got the fish that our suppliers could deliver: River Smelt, known here on the Northwest coast as Eulachons.

Eulachons are a very nutritious fish, with twice as many calories as Night Smelt. They are also bigger. Not so big that they can’t be swallowed whole by a Western Grebe (see video below) but five times larger than night smelt. Mathematically, it’s easy to see how Eulachons are a better fish to feed. Two 50 gram fish hold a total of 150 calories. Night smelt, at 10 grams each and 70 calories per 100 grams, require 20 fish to reach the same energy content!

This Grebe wouldn’t eat for her first week in care. She had no interest in food. She also had an injury just inside her cloaca, or ‘vent’, so it is possible that she was very uncomfortable when eliminating solid waste. In any case, we had to provide her nutrition via a feeding tube, a technique known as ‘gavage’ feeding – basically putting a fish slurry (a blend of smelt, vitamins, and a nutritionally enhanced liquid similar to a protein drink) directly into the patient’s stomach.
Gavage feeding is necessary when a patient isn’t able to self-feed.


Her weight during this period gradually rose. Our schedule for feeding balanced the needs of the patient to not see our scary faces too many times a day against the calories she needed to recover from her near death by starvation.

Typically aquatic birds require about 3 weeks of Night Smelt to recover from clinical emaciation. Of course there is some variance depending on other factors, including the personality of the patient.

[Your support needed! We are several thousand short of our March goal of $7000! Any amount helps! from $5, to $5 a month to $5000 dollars, your generosity goes directly to our mission of direct care and education. Please donate today!]

After the first week in care, going in and out of the pool, the Grebe struggled with her waterproofing. Her feathers around her vent were consistently wet. Besides for the confirmation that she might indeed have a wound healing just inside her digestive tract, her waterproofing issues were keeping her from spending all her time in the pool, which she needed badly. She had begun eating on her own and her weight was climbing steadily. The only thing holding her back was the persistent wetness around her vent. So we applied detergent to that area to give her a boost. Within a day she was waterproof.
After a week in care, she’d started eating on her own, and with our help, she was waterproof.


After 48 hours in the pool, we thought she was going to be released very soon. And then came a major setback. A volunteer went out to check at the end of the day that the birds in the pool had food and our Grebe was completely soaked, sitting on the little net (we call it a ‘haul-out’) we have for birds who need get out of the water. A healthy bird rarely uses it – it’s essentially a lifeboat for a bird who is struggling.

We pulled her from the pool, put her under a pet dryer and kept her indoors overnight. We analyzed the pool for what might have caused her problem. An obvious suspect, of course was the fish, the fatty Eulachons that had been such an effective food for her emaciation.
This is a very soggy bird using her haul-out. 50˚F water isn’t comfortable for warm blooded animals without thir protective shell. Aquatic birds rely on their feathers to satay warm and dry.


How fish are presented in pools is a tricky proposition no matter what the fat content is. Pieces of fish rather than whole fish are an oily mess even with Night Smelt. Our pools all have an overflow system so that any oils from fish or feces on top of the water are constantly being eliminated.

The problem was identified and we took corrective action. The basket we place the fish was not allowing water to freely flow, trapping oils. Every time our patient put her head in that water to grab a fish, she was picking up the oils and then spreading them around body when she preened, the time-consuming work that most birds must do every day to keep their feathers in good, functional shape. It was a simple problem, simply fixed.

We re-washed her. Within 24 hours she was fully waterproof. 48 hours after that, she was released, 300 grams heavier than when she was admitted, her wounds healed, and her life back on track. Her total time in care, with set backs: 15 days. The Eulachons, even with the problem, shaved a week off her recovery time. That’s simply too good to reject. So we amend our ways to accommodate the oil.
Using a very mild detergent and warm water, the Grebe was quickly washed. From here she was palced in a warm water pool where she essentially rinses herself, finishing the job. Another day of preening and she’ll back on top of her game. A hidden camera caught her as she works to reolve her feather issues in private. She also likes fish!


After another 48 hours in our pool, with modifications made to our system, she ate Eulachons and gained even more weight. After 2 weeks in care, she was released back to her wild freedom.





And then she was gone.  Our intimacy with her is done. She returns to her rightful place, out of our hands.


Right now we don’t have a choice. Eulachons, or river smelt, are what we can find. But even if we do have a choice, we’ll be sticking with the Eulachons. Our goal is to provide the best care, and good nutrition is cornerstone to that goal.

At our clinic in Bayside, with 1200 animals per year in care, we have the opportunity to elaborate on the gains made in aquatic bird care that emerged from high casualty marine disasters such as oil spills. We have the opportunity to develop strategies using our hard won knowledge to improve the care individual animals receive. Will Eulachons be a good fish choice to feed patients in an oil spill? Maybe, but we’d need to devise methods to improve water quality in ways that aren’t currently available. For individual patients, however, or for the much more common caseloads that coastal wildlife rehabilitators face daily, at our teaching hospital here on Humboldt Bay, we are doing the cutting edge work of improving the results of our care. Just as importantly, our efforts here don’t stop here. Through workshops and conferences we take the results of our work to other rehabilitators, demonstrating techniques and processes that they can use, on limited budgets, with limited resources. This necessary self-reliance seems to be the future of all rehabilitation work.

As we enter this period of dire uncertainty – with the Endangered Species Act under threat, with the Environmental Protection Agency openly attacked – in this terrible anti-bloom of the post-conservation era, our work is critical to the future of wildlife rehabilitation.

No matter how bad things become, no matter what night mare unfolds, wild animals will continue to suffer from human activity, human structures, and human caused problems such as quickly deteriorating ocean health. There will be those among us, today, tomorrow and as long as humans are present, who will be compelled to help. If we meet the challenges of our mission, those rehabilitators to come will have reliable information on how to provide good care.

Your support is the only thing that makes any of our work possible. Thank you!

All photos/videos Bird Ally X.