Silver-haired Bat of Trinidad

Spring came early to Humboldt County this year, but it’s a kind of Spring that feels a lot like winter. Wet, windy and cold. As a result, this year we are admitting more storm-tossed and struggling adults later in the year than usual.

Such was the case for an adult male Silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans) that was found on the ground struggling the last morning of April near Patrick’s Point State Park. Cold and lethargic, we don’t know why this bat was on the ground, but we do know that his struggle was real. He was unable to get himself out of harm’s way.

While it’s certainly true that most species of bat, and many other mammals, that we might encounter potentially are suffering from rabies, statistically it is very unlikely. In bats, rabies occurs in less than one percent of their population.  Still caution is necessary. Untreated, rabies is fatal. If a person has been bitten by a bat, or may have been bitten by a bat, having the bat tested is critical! If you are ever bitten by a wild animal such as a fox, skunk, weasel, or bat, immediately seek professional health care. Rabies is transmitted by bite. If you are ever bitten by a bat, or suspect that someone else, such as child, could have been bitten, the bat must be tested for the disease. If you must handle a sick bat, always wear protective gloves, such as leather work gloves.

This bat was lucky. He did not have any of the symptoms of rabies, or any other obvious injuries. He had bitten no one. In relatively good body condition, soon the bat was alert and flying.  A warm safe place to regroup seemed to be all that the silvery bat needed.

An uncharacteristically stormy and windy May delayed release – we wanted to give him the best chance out of the box. So after nine days at last we returned to this handsome fellow to his home in Trinidad.

Lifting the bat from our transport box to place in a nearby tree: these gloves don’t just protect us – they also protect the bat. If he were to bite one of us, proper human safety demands that we have him tested for rabies, a procedure that requires his death.

On the way to a stable branch, the bat jumped from staff’s hands, preferring this bit of new growth spruce; choosing his own destiny, like any self-owned, self-willed, freedom loving wild thing would do… 

Once adjusted to his freedom, he exercised it and his wings.

Away.


This bat, like all of our patients, had his own needs in care: from considerations of his natural history and diet, to likely causes of his initial problem, to human safety concerns for handling. Every animal we care for has needs that must be met. There are few blanket answers. Most injured and orphaned wild animals never receive treatment, because they are not found. For those animals that are found, it’s critical that they get the best care possible. That’s what Humboldt Wildlife Care Center is here to do. Your support saved this bat’s life. Your support directly saves the lives of hundreds of wild animals each year, and indirectly saves thousands more. Thank you!! [Donate Today!]

Photos: Laura Corsiglia/ Bird Ally X

 

 

Orange-crowned Warbler Defies Odds

Getting hit by a car doesn’t usually end well. But when you only weigh 9 grams (about a third of an ounce) you can get lucky. At the end of April an Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata)* was found in the middle of the street near downtown Eureka. Dazed and confused, the small bird, most likely hit by a car, would have been run down again if not for his rescuer. Once brought to Humboldt Wildlife Care  Center, she was already beginning to recover. Given a mild anti-inflammatory medicine, soon she was flying inside her patient housing. After 24 hours of observation, she was her old self. We returned her to Eureka where chances are good she’s in the middle of keeping eggs warm. We’re sure her partner was glad to have her back.

Out of the box and back in the game! Orange-crowned Warbler gets while the getting is good!


It is estimated that cars kill between 90 million and 340 million birds each year in the United States alone. This number doesn’t include possible secondary deaths caused back at the nest when a parent bird doesn’t return with food forever. Who knows how many young nestlings die each Spring, starving in their nest.

At this time of year most adult birds in the Northern Hemisphere are very busy finding mates, building nests, brooding eggs and raising their young. While car fatalities can sometimes be unavoidable, increased awareness of our wild neighbors and consideration for their lives can go a long way toward keeping wild families together.

When an adult is rescued at this time of year, we don’t know how many lives might actually be saved. Your support helps keep our doors open. Your support provided a second chance for this Warbler and for all of our patients. Thank you!


Want to support our work? That’s terrific because we need you! Just follow this link to make a one time donation or to become a Sustaining Member! Thanks again!

*Correction: This story was originally posted incorrectly identifying this bird as a Wilson’s Warbler. Sorry!


photos: Bird Ally X/Laura Corsiglia

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

Ticks, Tock! Gray Fox Beats Clock!

A week ago at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center we received a call about a fox paralyzed beneath a porch in the oceanside community of Samoa. Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)are resident on the long peninsula that divides Arcata Bay from the sea, inhabiting the dune forests and grasses. Although common, they are seldom scene.

Volunteers from the Care Center went out to the scene and found the fox lying still, barely responsive. Once back at our facility, she was found to be suffering from a quite awful infestation of ticks.

Besides giving her anti-parasitical medicine, we also removed as many ticks as possible. After wards, with fluids and food and rest, she was given a quiet place to recover. We were not sure what her ailment was, but the possibility of tick paralysis was an immediate concern. Tick paralysis is caused by a neurotoxin that is found in the saliva of ticks and is transmitted to an animal while a tick is attached and feeding. Beginning with feet and legs, eventually the paralysis will spread to the torso and lead to respiratory failure, and of course death. The primary treatment is removal of the ticks.

Removing the ticks.

Only some of the ticks that were removed.

Her first night in care, after tick removal.


On her first night in care, her prognosis was extremely guarded. She was provided a safe warm place, and food and water. As we closed the door for the night, she could barely lift her head.

The next morning she was a different animal. Fierce and growling, she’d eaten her food, drank her water, and was unevenly standing on all four feet. We moved her outdoors to our small mammal housing. We provided her with an appropriate diet and left her alone.

Within a day she was running easily and scaling the walls when staff went in to clean or feed.

After a week we were certain that she was recovered. She’d gained 500 grams in 6 days! Her coordination was complete. She was fully capable. We took her back to the Samoa peninsula and released her back to her wild and free life.

Back in her glory after several days in care.

There are simply some things a healthy fox can do that we can’t…

Quickly removing her from the net: her displeasure is loud and clear. 

With a burst she is going…

going…   and at last gone from our sight, back to her private freedom.


At the time this fox was reported to us, she was in a countdown to death. Unable to move, vulnerable, and with a worsening condition, it is doubtful that she would have lived through the night without rescue. Our ability to act is what saved her life. Because of your support, we are able, even though our resources are few, to respond quickly to calls and provide life-saving care. This fox beat the clock because we had a running start, thanks to you!

Please help us reach our fundraising goals for this month and next. Our busiest season is upon us. We need to raise $20,000 by May 31.  We already have wild orphans in care and many more will come. They need your help! Please donate today!


all 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

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.

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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.

 

 

Storm Battered Screech-Owl Secures Second Chance

After the storms at the end of February raged across the North Coast, our caseload at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center saw many more battered birds. Collisions with rocks at sea, collisions with buildings – even frantic foraging during lulls in the wind and rain can cause otherwise cautious wild animals to take dangerous risks in order to eat. While we may never know what actually caused an injury, the treatment is often the same. Such was the case with this Western Screech-owl (Megascops kennicottii) who was brought in to our wildlife hospital the last week of February after being found in the middle of Murray Road, east of McKinleyville.

The small owl, presumed male, was in excellent body condition, had no broken bones, but his left eye was swollen closed. Fortunately his eye was in good shape, with just swollen tissue surrounding. So after only a few days of anti-inflammatory medicine, he was flying very well, and very stressed by captivity. While it doesn’t tell the whole story, a healthy wild animal is less tolerant of human caregivers than one who is weak, in shock, or otherwise debilitated.

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Soon, we were able to return this Owl to the neighborhood where he lives. There is no question that his chances for survival without someone who cared enough to get him help finding him was seriously jeopardized. Even an hour on the ground can be fatal for a bird, especially if the ground in question s a well used rural highway. Enjoy the photographs that tell the story of his release! Thanks for your support!

He flies very well!

Our aviary isn’t big enough for this Owl.

If he passes his release evaluation, this is the last time he’ll have to encounter the dreaded net.

Checking the progress of his wounded eye.

On the way to the release site…

Patient flying away – the best sight…


Thanks to you and your generous support, the folks who found this owl were able to find us. And thanks to the care that your support allows us to provide, there will be another Screech-owl in the Redwoods this Spring, preparing to raise another clutch of owlets with his mate. With our help, they’ll make sure there’ll always be Screech-owls in our forests.


All photos: Bird Ally X/Laura Corsiglia