They Call It Giving Tuesday

We call it Tuesday. And who knows what the day will bring – before noon and we’ve already admitted five patients. Late November 2017 and Humboldt Wildlife Care Center has treated more animals in the regular course of our year than ever before. This winter we’ve cared for a steady stream of patients – from Western Grebes to Western Screech-owls – each caught in some terrible snare of civilization; smashed by cars, starved by a sea drowning in industrial refuse.

Two of our five Western Grebe patients recover from starvation on our seabird pool.

A Pacific Loon who landed in a puddle in a parking lot floats in privacy moments before her release evaluation.

One of the 11 Western Screech-owls that HWCC treated in November 2017. Early Autumns evenings and rush hour traffic are a terrible ix for nocturnal hunters!

Moments after release, this Western Screech-owl pauses to survey his second chance – a second chance your support provided.

As 2017 comes to its end, we thank you for all the support you’ve given – the difference your generosity has made for our wild neighbors is measurable – in patients we’ve treated, in wildlife conflicts we’ve resolved, in lives we’ve touched both human and wild – and it is also without number – your support reaches into the mysterious heart of our true wild life on Earth. Thank you for helping us get it done.








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.




Aquatic Birds in Care

Every year, as our busy wild baby season comes to a close, aquatic birds, who breed elsewhere, come back to the Pacific Coast to overwinter. The famed Aleutian Cackling Geese, Brant, Grebes, Loons, seaducks, dabbling ducks, all use our relatively mild winters with historically food-rich waters to while away the hibernal months.

At Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, the arrival of wintering aquatic birds means a dramatic change in our caseload. Already this Autumn we have provided care for dozens of adult and juvenile aquatic birds.

For adult birds, this season is a time of comparative ease, without the responsibilities of rearing young. For this year’s young, this is their first season in the world of adults, a time of learning – learning to hunt, where to find food, learning their way around the real world, becoming independent.

The real world naturally holds threats – not every juvenile bird lives. Adults die in storms. They are caught by predators. Old age takes its toll as well. Still, it’s rare that we admit patients suffering from these natural calamities and processes.

Most patients are admitted in poor body condition – emaciated, anemic and dehydrated – obviously suffering from starvation.

This year, the usually “productive” California Current is not providing the quantity of fish needed to support the wintering population. As we noted earlier in the year, Common Murres, who raise their young on the North Coast experienced complete colony failure this year due to the absence of appropriate prey fish. (Even at our clinic we are struggling to stay in supply of food to feed our patients, due to this shortage!)

There are other causes of injury. Some of our patients this season were entangled in derelict fishing gear, and no doubt we will treat more. Derelict fishing gear is a global problem that makes itself known locally everywhere.

Typically each year we treat waterfowl, geese and ducks, that have been legally shot by hunters, but not killed, that have been found later by someone else. And sometimes we admit aquatic birds with traumatic injuries that we can’t ascribe to any particular cause – wing fractures, leg fractures  that may be from collisions with human infrastructure, boats, battering surf – we just don’t know.

In all cases, however, our trained staff and purpose-built facilities allow us to provide excellent care for aquatic birds – noe of which would be possible without your generous support. So as we continue through this season, scroll the photos below to see some of our recent and current patients. And get out and enjoy our wintering wild aquatic neighbors! And as usual, if you can help us meet our mission with financial support, please do! We need you!

nosh-nov-2016-5-of-19Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)in care, moments before her release evaluation, demonstrating that explosive flight is well within her capabilities.

nosh-nov-2016-7-of-19Female Northern Shoveler during her release evaluation exam

nosh-nov-2016-8-of-19 Northern Shoveler wing, extended for examination. Note her delicate blue and green speculum.
nosh-nov-2016-13-of-19Northern Shoveler flies free!

wegr-11-18-16-1-of-17Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) feet! Very awkward on land, in the water, these feet become propellers, as the bird swiftly pursues fish for her meals.
wegr-11-18-16-2-of-17Western Grebe wing.
wegr-11-18-16-11-of-17Each bird receives nutritional support, is treated for parasites and given supplemental vitamins while in care.

wegr-11-18-16-15-of-17Like many aquatic bird species, Western grebes are social and seek the comfort and safety of a like-minded community.
wegr-11-18-16-17-of-17Even a Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) can be part of the gang!

rel-susc4Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) being released after two weeks in care, regaining lost body weight and strength.

rel-wegr1Another Western Grebe released.
img_4651This Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) collided with a building suffering very little injury. Still this male needed a few days to recover. Upon release in his home territory at Big Lagoon he immediately circled around calling and joined a female, his likely mate.

img_4658An incredible moment as the Kingfisher flew a circle around his caregivers immediately after release.

img_4654Belted Kingfishers, like all aquatic birds, require specialized care. Bird Ally X was founded as a means to bring quality aquatic bird care to the more remote areas of our coast where experience and resources are scant. This male’s care and release at Big Lagoon is a testament to that mission.
palo-rel-21-11-16-2-of-15In an awesome update to a recent story, this Pacific Loon, who was found by HWCC staff on the beach in Samoa entangled in a discarded fishing net, was just released today!
palo-rel-21-11-16-6-of-15  palo-rel-21-11-16-12-of-15Releasing any patient is an immeasurable reward, but in another way we have a direct measure – your support. This Loon’s second chance was bought and paid for by your donation! Thank you!

Your support for our work during every season is critical. We have nearly a dozen aquatic birds in care right now, in addition to our other patients. We anticipate more to come. Each month brings us new challenges – some predictable, like the return of wintering seabirds, others less predictable, such as failing prey fish populations, sudden storms, and other emergencies. Being able to rely on you allows us to prepare for both. Your donation (click here) to help us meet our November goal of $7000 will go directly to the care of these remarkable birds who live so near to us, but whose lives are so different. Thank you!!!





Western Grebes Need Your Help

Young birds, tossed by big seas, struggle on area beaches. Over 50 Grebes rescued so far! Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center needs your help providing these birds a second chance.

Grebes Autumn 2014 story - 11
Western Grebes, elegant and graceful, recover in our seabird pool

During the second week of October a period of rough ocean conditions began on the North coast with breakers higher than 16 feet. Immediately Humboldt Wildlife Care Center/BAX began admitting immature Western Grebes who had been tossed on the beach by the big waves.

Grebes Autumn 2014 story - 17
A young Grebe in a transport carrier. Eye protection is a good idea when handling these birds!

To date, we have admitted 50 of these elegant black and white birds for care. All of them are young birds. Western grebes raise their families all over the west on freshwater lakes. Once their young can fly and hunt for fish on their own, they depart the lakes to spend the winter along the coast on bays, inlets, river mouths and on the open ocean, often seen just beyond the break in large groups called rafts.

Grebes Autumn 2014 story - 16
Checking body condition: many of our patients are emaciated.

Young birds who are unfamiliar with the ocean can struggle with storms and high seas, leaving them vulnerable. A few days of not being able to eat and they may find themselves too weak to recover on their own. Add to this mix the modern challenges of unpredictable ocean health due to a disrupted climate, overfishing and the pollution stream that comes from all sides, and the near-shore environment can now be seen as a much less hospitable place for young seabirds.

Grebes Autumn 2014 story - 22
Blood is drawn for simple tests that can help us determine the overall health of each bird.

Once in care, all oceanic birds require resource-intensive treatment. Each bird eats a pound of fish a day! Rehydrating fluids, anti-parasite medicine and nutritional supplements also are needed.

After millions of years of evolution, Grebes are unable to tolerate being on land, or any hard surface, and must quickly be housed in pools. Clean water is absolutely necessary for their recovery. We conserve our resources as much as we can, but we still need your help providing these fundamental necessities for our patients.

Grebes Autumn 2014 story - 15
A slightly warmed pool helps weakened Grebes get back on water – a must if they are to survive.

Grebes Autumn 2014 story - 13
Each bird eats about a pound of fish a day.

Grebes Autumn 2014 story - 08
Some tossed fish encourage our patients’ appetite while in the stressful captive environment.

Grebes Autumn 2014 story - 09
Fortunately Western grebes are highly social and prefer to be with others.

Once healthy, the young birds are released into Humboldt Bay, where many species of prey-fish are abundant.

Grebes Autumn 2014 story - 20

Grebes Autumn 2014 story - 21

Thanks to community support we have released 18 of these birds back into the wild. We still have 14 Western Grebes in care who need you to help cover the costs of their ongoing treatment. A few more are admitted each day. Please give what you can.

Our mission to help individual animals survive against the challenges modern society has placed on the natural world is only possible with your support. As you scroll through the photographs of our patients, you can enjoy knowing that your contribution provides the best care available for struggling wild animals here on the beautiful Redwood Coast. Any amount helps. Besides financial support you can also help spread our work by sharing this page. Invite us to present at your club or organization. We love to talk to our community about wildlife and how we can all help. Contact us at!

all photographs Laura Corsiglia/BAX


Young Western Grebes in Trouble

UPDATED: 15 Western Grebes admitted for care today. More possibly coming tomorrow.

Please help!

Over last weekend Humboldt Wildlife Care Center/BAX began admitting several Western grebes into care. Battered by unusually high surf, these young birds, freshly arrived from lakes across our region, have been beaching from the Samoa peninsula to Crescent City. Right now we have eight in care, with at least that many awaiting rescue. These elegant birds, black and white with long necks, pointed bills, and red eyes, are rarely seen on land. Evolved for pursuing fish beneath the waves, on beaches they are in serious trouble.

Once rescued, they will receive expert care at our facility in Bayside. Please help us provide food, medicine and clean water. Your contribution will go a long way toward giving these birds another chance. Thank you for being an ally in this life saving work.



Wounded Western Grebes of 2014

When Western Grebes started coming in to Humboldt Wildlife Care Center in the middle of January, we were not sure what was causing their injuries. Large puncture wounds, crushed legs and wings… we surmised then and still have no better theory than conflicts with Sea lions when foraging. Over the course of the next few months, we admitted for care nearly 30 of these elegant and ferocious fish-eating birds.

Of these birds, however, only 2 were able to be fully rehabilitated and released. Most had injuries too severe to ever be able to heal well enough that they could thrive in the wild. This is without question one of the hardest parts of wildlife rehabilitation; – the repeated exposure to devastating injury.

Because aquatic birds need to be on water while in care this can make treating wounds below their waterline difficult. Only recent advances in aquatic bird wound management have allowed for more of these birds to survive their injuries and be returned to their lives. In the past it was assumed that the weeks required for deep, penetrating wounds to heal meant that birds who need to be on water were not good candidates for rehabilitation. Many birds with such wounds were euthanized for humane reasons.

With time and trial and error, rehabilitators have learned techniques that mitigate some of the negative outcomes of being kept off water as well as ways to successfully treat these wounds while the bird is housed on water. This requires skilled staff and purpose-built infrastructure.

So, while the number is low, two of the birds we treated recovered from their deep wounds and were recently released back to their free and wild lives. Thanks to your support we were able to provide the extensive, specialized care these birds require.

WEGR NB & P95 release 8 April 14  - 001Release evaluation includes a complete physical examination. The lobed feet of grebes defines their species.


WEGR NB & P95 release 8 April 14  - 003The freshly healed puncture wound with new feather growth.


WEGR NB & P95 release 8 April 14  - 007

WEGR NB & P95 release 8 April 14  - 013Out of the box and into the sea!
WEGR NB & P95 release 8 April 14  - 019Another happy wildlife rehabilitator!

WEGR NB & P95 release 8 April 14  - 021Off to resume a life interrupted!

WEGR NB & P95 release 8 April 14  - 025And making new friends…
WEGR NB & P95 release 8 April 14  - 057Evaluating feather condition

WEGR NB & P95 release 8 April 14  - 059A very small amount of blood can tell us a great deal about the patient’s health.

WEGR NB & P95 release 8 April 14  - 071And away…

WEGR NB & P95 release 8 April 14  - 073

WEGR NB & P95 release 8 April 14  - 089

WEGR NB & P95 release 8 April 14  - 111At this release site, many grebes are already there…


Influx of Injured Western Grebes

grebe puncture story - 0217 January at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, we admitted a Western grebe who’d been found on Centerville beach near Ferndale. The deep puncture wounds on his flank and belly, as well as crushed bones in his wing, were too severe for treatment. While we greatly prefer to treat injured animals and release them back to their wild lives, to be able to humanely end the suffering of an animal too wounded to ever live freely again is also an important part of our mission.

Later that day another Western grebe, found several miles north at South Jetty, was brought to our clinic. This bird, with similar wounds, died on the way.

And so began a five day run in which 11 of these elegant seabirds with deep puncture wounds and occasionally with a crushed wing or leg, came to our small wildlife hospital on the Redwood coast. Many of the birds came from Crescent City, a few were found between here and there – Manila, Clam Beach, Trinidad.

grebe puncture story - 03As of this writing, only two have survived. Both are currently in care.

This is somewhat unusual. Typically, when more than a few of one species of seabird are found struggling, the birds suffer from emaciation, a condition brought on from a lack of nutrition. For as long as seabirds have been observed, mass starvation events have occasionally happened. Such occurences are often called “wrecks.”

Nowadays, overfishing, climate change and host of other ocean ills cause these wrecks to occur more frequently. While there are many possible causes for this kind of starvation, the cure is relatively simple: stabilization (fluids and warmth) and food.

When emaciation isn’t the problem, the next most likely scenario to cause large numbes of seabirds to run into trouble is a toxin in the environment, such as petroleum spills, harmful algal blooms (often caused by agricultural “run-off”, sewage, fish waste.

The wounds we’ve seen look like predator bites. Our working hypothesis is that sea lions are hunting these birds for food, or what seems more likely is that these grebes were bitten while pursuing fish in the same school with sea lions. There is precedent for marine birds injured by Sea lions while foraging. Whatever the case, currently we have no direct observations or conclusive results.

grebe puncture story - 33The prognosis for the two birds in care is hopeful. While their wounds are severe they are healing and all other aspects of their health are good.

Western Grebes are aquatic birds – they spend their entire lives on water. Even their nests are aquatic, built on floating vegetation anchored to reeds and other aquatic plants. Once they hatch, grebe babies ride on the backs of their parents and from then on they are either on water, under water in pursuit of fish, or in flight. For these birds to heal successfully they need to spend most of their time in care on water. Right now, providing that housing is the challenge we face.

Our facility in Bayside is small and most of our equipment is improvised or re-purposed. (For example, plastic 55 gallon drums house our homemade filters on our pools.) Your support provides the means for our skilled staff to build the infrastructure necesssary for the care of all wildlife that meets the specific needs of each animal.

grebe puncture story - 01If you see a Western Grebe on the sand, there is a strong likelihood that something is the matter.

If you are able to do so safely, toss a towel, sheet or jacket over the bird’s head to protect yourself from the sharp pointed bill. Western grebes have very long necks – hold the bird low, near your waist, at arm’s length. Your safety must come first.

Once you have the bird wrapped in a towel, or ideally in a box, you can transport her or him to our clinic.

If you are unable to do this, call us and we’ll try to help. (locally 822-8839 or our statewide hotline 888 975 8188.) As always, thank you for your support. Thank you for being a part of this life-saving work.