A Mid-Summer Day’s Reality

On any day of the Summer, our busiest season, we rarely know in advance which new patients will be admitted. The phone rings, a car rolls up our driveway, someone carries a cardboard box through the door. What’s inside?

Yesterday the boxes held a fledgling White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)who was chewed up by a housecat, a River Otter (Lontra canadensis) from Crescent City who’d died on the trip south to our clinic, a Common Murre (Uria aalge) found on the beach near Fort Bragg with a broken wing, a nestling Western Gull (Larus occidentalis) who’s “rescuers” kept him for most of his life. He was found in mid-June just after hatching and held four weeks before help was sought.

Like the River Otter, many patients die before we can help them,  while many more are too badly injured to ever regain their wild freedom and are treated humanely, ending pain and misery. And of course, we admit patients everyday who need our care, who respond to our treatments, and who recover and return to the wild.

So far this year we are running about 2% above 2017, our busiest year to date, and we’ve just crossed the mid-year point. We’ve admitted about 620 animals for care in 2018. And our pace continues. Today we admitted four baby bats and one raccoon who were driven to our Bayside clinic from southern Mendocino County.

But for all of our out-of-area patients, the top ten locations from where our patients come are all solidly in the heart of Humboldt County. McKinlyeville, Arcata, and Eureka combined are where 70% of our patients so far this year have come.

The top ten locations where our wild patients where found.

A lot has already happened this year. We’ve admitted, cared for and released over two dozen Mallards, several baby songbirds, and over forty young Opossums. And right now we have over 70 wild animals in care.

Mallard ducklings released in June 2018

Our Spring fundraiser in May reached 50% of our goal of $25,000. Thank you to everyone who contributed! While we missed our mark by a wide margin, nevertheless we did raise over $12,000 which we immediately converted to raccoon milk replacer, eggs, vegetables, electricity, water, rent and more. We’re asking again. We’re going to admit another 600 animals this year. To be ready for them, to provide the proper care, the proper foods, the appropriate medicines, the experienced attention, we need your help. Without you we literally will cease to exist. Please donate today! Every mid-Summer day at our clinics different from the others. No two days are the same, and our patients are diverse and largely unpredictable. Yet, in another sense, each day is like every other. Each day we open our doors and we answer our phone.  Each day we provide the care that we can and relieve as much suffering as possible. Each day we help some on to the next world, treat some who we believe we can help with a second chance and we work to prepare orphaned wildlife of any species,from Quail to Rabbits, care and education so that they can return to their wild and free birthright. Each day we succeed with some, and our days are filled with successful releases of our patients back to freedom. We’ll leave with this series of wild patients who got their second chance., thanks to your generous support.


An Osprey found wounded and unable to fly along the Trinity River in Hoopa, rescued and brought to our clinic by Hoopa Tribal Forestry staff (you guys rock!) need enough time to recover in our care, to regain her flightm, her sense of purpose, and to demand to be returned to her beloved river valley.

One of our dedicated HWCC//bax interns prepares to release the Osprey along the bank of the Trinity River.

Into the sky!

And away!

From the mountians to the sea in the course of the day: Early in May we admitted two juvenile Brown Pelicans. Fearing that this might be the beginning of another bad year like we saw in 2011 and 2012 with these iconic West Coast birds, we ramped up our readiness. However, unlike the rest of the Californian coast, we thankfully did not see a high mortality rate among juvenile Pelicans in our region.

After a long recovery, the door to wild freedom is opened!

Some part of us always soars with our patient.

In the last 7 months we’ve treated 18 Barn Owls at HWCC/bax, including these two young ruffians! We’d already been caring for the larger of these two nestling Barn Owl chicks when the the smaller one came to us from Lost Coast. As it turns our he’d fallen from a nest box that HWCC had installed nearly 20 years before! The young owlet was in good health so we prepared to return him to his nest when we realized that the family he was going back to would do a much better job raising his older hospital buddy. So we sent both young owls back to the barn by the edge of the sea.  It was amazing how quickly the larger owlet accepted and formed an alliance with his new roommate after the smaller guy was admitted.
Boxing the young owls up for travel. Transport of wild animals is fraught with difficulties. We’re as cautious as we can be…
As close to paradise as some will ever get, a small farm by the edge of the North Pacific Ocean. Our two Bran Owl patients will learn to fly here…

HWCC/bax volunteer coordinator, Ruth Mock, brings the owls and supplies to the scene of the reunite.

The active nest holds other small owls. Soon they will all be fledged into the great wide open.

Ruth places the birds back in the box…

Storm Petrels, tiny seabirds barely larger than a Robin, are frequent visitors to our region.  This small cousin of the Albatross, was found in a gas station parking lot in Crescent City after a foggy night. It’s likely the bird was disoriented in the fog and landed on wet pavement mistaking it for the nearby ocean or harbor.

Checking the feather condition of the small seabird after 2 days in our 1000 liter salt pool.

Cleared for release!

Another ocean voyager leaves the safe harbor for destiny!

As the season proceeds we’ll be asking for your support regularly. The 1200 wild animals who we admit for care each year, as well as the thousands of others who we help over the phone, wouldn’t be heard at all without you and your generous support. Please, donate today! Thank you!

all photos: Laura Corsiglia/ bird ally x


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


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


Western Pond Turtle Avoids Life in Captivity Thanks to Alert Craigslist Seller! (photos!!)

Although nearly every patient who we admit at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center is a victim of industrial society, not all victims are injured. Recently we took a call from a man in Scotia, south of Humboldt Bay, telling us that while he’d had an aquarium listed on Craigslist someone had contacted him asking if it was suitable for a turtle. He’d asked what species and the person had told him he didn’t know but that he’d found the turtle in the Eel river.

The caller said that he’d convinced the man to surrender the turtle and that he would bring the kidnap victim to us the next day.

Among all wild species of vertebrates, reptiles and amphibians are some of the least protected by law. In California as long as you carry a sport-fishing license you may legally possess anywhere from one to an unlimited amount of turtles, frogs, salamanders, etc on any given day. Western Pond Turtles (Emys marmorata), however are listed in by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife as Species of Special Concern, due to their restricted range and relatively small population. (see more info about CDFW’s special species list here.)

True to his word, the caller came by the next day with a Western Pond Turtle. After an exam, we determined that the turtle was in good health with no injuries, so the next day we too him back to secluded spot along the Eel river near Scotia.

Our examination found no problems at all. A healthy male Western pond turtle!

We selected a release site along the Eel River near Scotia, where the turtle was first kidnapped.

And then he sunk from view back into the surrounding and surrounded Wild.

While laws might not protect reptiles and amphibians as much as we’d like, laws are not the only thing that keep us and those we cherish safe. Awareness, respect, common sense, and an imagination that allows us to see the central fact of any living being’s right to be, their right to co-exist with us without harassment and unharmed. This is a major part of our work. Your support allows us to do all that we can to promote co-existence with our wild neighbors, and to remind the adults of our society of the love for the Wild into which they were born and for whom they’d once had an affinity as natural as love for our mother.

Thank you for making sure we’re here, doors open, ready to provide whatever assistance is needed to our wild neighbors. If you’d like to support our work, please donate today!

all photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX


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


CODE RED – We Need Your Support!

Dear Supporters of Bird Ally X and Humboldt Wildlife Care Center,

Because I write most of the material that BAX and HWCC publishes on our website, social media, and mailings, it’s likely that if you have responded to one of our appeals for support in the last five years, I wrote that appeal. However, it isn’t often that I write in first person singular. In a departure from the usual, I’d like to talk to you directly, as the person largely responsible for the day to day operation of HWCC and a co-founder of BAX. And what I want to talk to you about is money.


Raising money isn’t my background. I am a wildlife rehabilitator and poet (don’t worry – none of this will be in rhymed couplets), not a salesperson, not a lobbyist, not a fundraiser. That however doesn’t absolve me from the responsibility to ensure that our clinic has the resources we need to meet our mission. I worked with the rest of BAX’s co-founders on our mission statement, and it’s a mission that we take very seriously:

Bird Ally X is a collective of wildlife care-providers committed to raising the standard of care available for sick or injured aquatic birds and all wildlife. Bird Ally X works to help wild birds and all wildlife in their efforts to survive the hazards of civilization through:

  • the direct action of caring for wild animals in distress
  • supporting other rehabilitation groups through workshops and consultation
  • generation and proliferation of educational and informational materials and literature, for our colleagues and our neighbors

Bird Ally X will build, strengthen and further develop the resources available to ensure that excellent care is provided by working with colleagues in wildlife rehabilitation to maintain an environment of mutual aid and benefit.

In all efforts, Bird Ally X is committed to continually elevating the quality of available care, and providing uncompromising advocacy on behalf of wild birds and all wildlife.

Promoting co-existence with our wild neighbors, which means preventing conflicts, senseless deaths and injuries, and keeping wild families together, is integral to our work. It’s when we ask for support that we have our clearest opportunity to accomplish this aspect of our mission. This blog, our mailing list and our social media outlets, as well as our wild ambassador program are the everyday methods we have to accomplish this task. To persuade you that your money is contributed to something worthwhile, we have to describe our work. In order to describe our work, we must describe how our patients become jeopardized, what threats and challenges our society places in the free and wild lives of our wild neighbors as well as how these threats can be eliminated or at least minimized.

Awareness is raised. And hopefully your support is won. And BAX/HWCC can continue our work.

So I struggle with the task of constantly pleading for money, striving to ensure that our fundraising efforts also be educational and mission-oriented.

pelican release july 14 - 3

As a supporter of other non-profits, as a citizen, I have always preferred to support those organizations whose work and fundraising were linked. Working on a fundraising campaign that does not include an educational message seems to me a waste of time and materials, a waste of your consideration. So we are scrupulous that our appeals to our community for support also carry practical messages regarding co-existence, regarding information on injured wildlife, and regarding the ways that we can make our collective voices heard to impact policy or procedure (or the status quo) when these things are killing wild neighbors or causing any to suffer.



May Jar Pic
In strictly practical terms, our clinic staff is very occupied with our clinic work – we can’t work on unrelated tasks – car washes, yard sales, booze cruises, it doesn’t matter – any of these fine things are fine, but they aren’t mission-oriented. We are a very small organization with an enormous challenge – our focus needs to be on our work and not our fancy ball!

Money is such a difficult subject. We all exist in a world that values currency over nature; – absurd to pretend otherwise. If it weren’t the case, the forests of the world would still be intact. Yet, currency provides the fish our patients eat. Currency provides the water our facility needs to provide pools for waterbirds. Currency keeps our lights on and our pumps running.

Of course, the primary reason we never stop asking for money is obvious. Patients never stop coming through our door. Today is Friday. Since Monday we have admitted over 20 patients. From a nest of Barn swallows to a Long-tailed Weasel. Each in need. Each the result of some conflict with our society  – hit by cars, caught by pets, nest illegally destroyed – and more.

Each day we open our doors to receive the injured wild animals our human neighbors find by the side of our metaphorical and actual highways. Not the roadkill, just the road-maimed who would have suffered and died a cruel and senseless death. Even though we have outreach efforts into every corner of our community, still each day we are told “I didn’t know you existed! I’m so glad you are here!”

first raccoon release 2014 - 091

We are here. We are here because of your support. Right now we are in dire need. This year is on track to be our busiest in the history of HWCC. Yet we are not in the midst of some emergency, as has happened in past years, during which we send out a special appeal, and take extraordinary measures. We are just struggling along… with this Red-shouldered Hawk, this Cedar Waxwing, this Gray Fox.

So far in 2016 we have provided direct care for 800 wild animals. We’ve handled thousands of phone calls that often result in an injury prevented, or a wild family kept intact. We’ve admitted patients from as far away as Mount Lassen and Sacramento. We’ll likely admit 500 more patients before the year ends.

So we’re in jeopardy ourselves. Without your support, we won’t be able to meet this intense challenge. We won’t be able to keep our doors open. We won’t be able to pay for the water, the food, the medicine, the gas, the electric, the trash pickup, the propane, the rent, the salaries of our two paid staff members who are critical to ensuring quality of the care we provide.

BUFF Feb 2014 - 10

I’m pleading with you to help us with any amount you can… if half the population of our local community each gave us one dollar, our expenses would be paid through the end of the year! Imagine if only 1% signed up to be a sustaining member at $10 per month! In any case, your support goes directly to our work helping the injured and orphaned wildlife of our region. We need $7000 by the end of August. We’re on our way but still far from that goal. Please, every little bit helps…

Thank you for your consideration, your support, and, mostly, thank you for your love for our wild neighbors.

Take care,
Monte Merrick
co-director/co-founder Bird Ally X


coyote pup 3 June 13 - 03




A Hawk Discovers You Can Go Home Again

In mid-June, a very ordinary thing happened. Someone called our clinic to ask for help with a bird who’d fallen from a high nest. Typically, we’d like to get birds who fall from their nest back to their families right away. But this case had some complications. First, the bird was in Petrolia, which is part of the area we serve, but is a couple of hours away and second, the nest location wasn’t known.

[Thank YOU!! – We made it to $5000 by the end of July! And a few hundred dollars more!! your support makes our work possible! Our August goal of $7000 will allow us to buy fish to feed our growing seabird caseload, as well as continue providing care for all of this season’s orphaned wild babies – raccoons! swallows! hawks! jays! and more! Please contribute what you can! Every donation helps! Click here to donate now!]

The bird happened to be a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), an easily recognized member of our community. These magnificent small hawks can be seen along almost any rural road, working over almost any open field, perched in nearby trees, hunting for primarily rodents along the edges of almost everything. Each year we typically raise at least one of these hawks, and sometimes more. This hawk was on the larger side so we imagined that she was female.

Without knowing the location of the nest, there was little chance for us to return this wayward nestling to her family. Even raising her until fledging wasn’t going to be enough, because these birds depend on their parents after they’ve left the nest for food until they are able to hunt. So we’d have to keep this bird in care until she was able to recognize and eat real prey. Fortunately, our patient was an older nestling, close to being ready for flight.

Immediately, the hawklet began to devour all the food we offered, thawed mice, thawed rats, basically any small animal we fed. And we watched as real world feathers grew in and the bird changed into a sleek, beautiful juvenile.

Version 2In the aviary with another young raptor, the Red-shouldered hawk (on the left) is alert and wary.

After 6 weeks, and after she demonstrated her ability to hunt, we returned the hawk to Petrolia and released her. Of course we hoped that she would find family members and remember enough of the area that she’d learned from the view from the nest, but in any case we were confident that this young raptor would be able to fend for herself.
RSHA-petrolia 2016 - 6 of 59Capturing the hawk from the aviary for her release exam. Every examination puts a great deal of stress on a patient. We reduce this handling as much as possible. 
Version 2Keeping raptor feet healthy in an environment where they spend more than an ordinary amount of time perched in one location is important. After 6 weeks in captivity this hawk’s feet are in perfect condition.

RSHA-petrolia 2016 - 16 of 59Her eyes, mouth, hearing – every aspect of this hawk screamed “Release me!” So we did.

RSHA-petrolia 2016 - 18 of 59
RSHA-petrolia 2016 - 20 of 59
RSHA-petrolia 2016 - 26 of 59It’s a long and stunningly beautiful drive to Petrolia, the human capital of the Lost Coast.

RSHA-petrolia 2016 - 27 of 59Without knowledge of the nest location, a release site was chosen based on proximity to Petrolia and suitability of habitat – the presence of trees, open land, and the Mattole River made this a good site.

Version 2Release!

Version 2Our patient in flight, over the home she was meant to have.

Here is a very short video that really shows the explosive speed of this young hawk…

The story doesn’t stop here. Within a few minutes from release, the young former patient postioned herself on the highest tree in the area and began calling. Within a few more minutes, an adult Red-shouldered Hawk arrived on the scene.
Version 2 Perched and calling, soon two other Red-shouldered Hawks, at least one of them an adult, arrived. Was the adult a parent to this youngster? Well, we can’t say for sure. We believe so. One thing we know with certainty: they left the area together. A re-united family is the likely explanation.

RSHA-petrolia 2016 - 48 of 59The last shot gotten as the young bird followed the adults into the trees beyond view.

This hawk’s return to freedom is one of the important outcomes of your support for our work. More than rehabilitation is needed, of course. These hawks still must live in a world where casual violence, habitat destruction, rodenticides, lead and myriad other non-natural challenges make life in the wild more precarious than it should be. Your love for the wild and respect for Mother Earth also goes a long way toward preserving the world and celebrating life.

Want to be part of our life-saving work? Please donate today. Your contribution goes directly to the care of injured and orphaned wild animals on the North Coast and beyond. Thank you!!!


all photos: Laura Corsiglia/ Bird Ally X


Feathers Badly Singed in Fire, Osprey Fitted For Second Chance.

Earlier this summer, we admitted a weakened and burned Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) who’d been the victim of a nest fire northeast of Weaverville, well over 100 miles away from our clinic.

[July is nearly over and we still need your help reaching our goal of $5000 raised by the end of the month! Please donate! And thank you to everyone who has already! ]

The burns that the bird suffered had a good prognosis, and generally speaking, the “fish hawk” was in good shape, except for one critical component: all of the Osprey’s primaries, or flight feathers, were singed beyond usefulness, as were all of his tail feathers.


Without these feathers, our patient couldn’t fly, let alone plunge feet first from the sky into Trinity Lake, and then muscle his way back from the water into the air, carrying off a large fish for a meal for himself or his young.

In this condition, the Osprey was far from releasable. We gave him a safe aviary and plenty of fish and looked for signs that he was entering his molt cycle, the time of year when birds renew their feathers… Osprey do replace them at this time of year, so we hoped for a natural cure.


After a few weeks though it became clear that waiting for a molt was going to take too long for this bird. So we turned to another option.

Imping is a process by which old feathers can can be replaced. Of course, donor feathers of the same species are required. In February 2012 we’d released a Thayer’s gull whose primary feathers on one wing had been crushed. Using similar gull flight feathers we successfully imped them to the cut shaft of the damaged feathers. This isn’t surgery. This is more like furniture repair, or life-saving hair extensions.

The success of that patient’s treatment led us to start a feather bank, just as there are blood banks and organ donors. Back in April of 2014, we’d admitted an Osprey for care who’d suffered a severe humerus fracture. Humane euthanasia was the only appropriate treatment.  Once the bird’s suffering was over, we removed a complete set of primary feathers and tail feathers. Stored against damage from elements or insects, these feathers were in the same condition, over two years later, as when we’d first collected them.

Now this Osprey of 2016 will get a second chance.

DSC_3127Complete set of the primary flight feathers for the right wing of an adult Osprey. Flight feathers are called remiges, a latin word combining the word for oar and the verb to drive – it is accurate to think of these feathers as the oars birds use to paddle through the air.

DSC_3135First new flight feather, alongside the damaged one.

DSC_3150A heated scalpel blade easily slices through the keratin shaft of the feather.

DSC_3144A small dowel is glued into the hollow shaft.

DSC_3158The same is repeated on the other side.



DSC_3165We stopped after replacing five feathers on the right side. Being handled for any length of time is very stressful for wild animals. We gave the Osprey a 20 minute break. Also it was time for our baby opossums to be fed and we needed the room!

We came back and repeated the process, but on the left side.






After finishing the five feathers on the left, the Osprey got another break. Each wing had taken approximately 30 minutes. The feather imping team could use the break too. The task isn’t technically difficult, but the stress level is high for everyone. After the break, that sad tail gets attention.

DSC_3212Because one of the Osprey’s center tail feathers has grown in, we decided to replace only the outside four on each side.

DSC_3220As the primary flight feathers are known scientifically as remiges, the tail feathers are known as rectrices.  Rectrice, from the Latin, rector, or helmsman, rudder. So the flight feathers are the oars and the tail feathers are the rudder. And the bird who uses them is a sky kayaker.




DSC_3240After some time, we’ll evaluate for replacing the center damaged feathers as well. If we don’t need to, that would be terrific. Reducing the stress of our patients is a critical component of our care and we strive for the least invasive treatment possible.


This bird’s care isn’t over. He’s not even out of the woods. To be released we need to be confident that this bird will be able to survive on his own. After the full set of feathers has been imped, the strength and durability of the glue bond will be tested in our aviary. Once reasonably assured that the bond will hold the rigors of freedom, it won’t be long before this Osprey is growing in his own replacement feathers on his own time, in his own home – the wild.

DSC_3140Feathers are worth an entire life of study! An amazing evolutionary development that not only allows flight, but also allows a life at sea, a life in the arctic, a life in equatorial regions… closely related to hair, nails, claws and scales, feathers are a natural wonder the importance of which can’t be overstated. Want to learn more about feathers – start here.

Your support makes our work possible. Without you, this Osprey, as well as the baby Opossums who were in this room in an incubator just a few feet away during the entire procedure, would have no hope, no second chance. Want to help keep our work going? You can donate here.


All photos: Laura Corsiglia/Bird Ally X.