Belted Kingfisher Says Every Day is Earth Day

23 04 2014

(Video of release at bottom of story!)

Last Sunday, while kids scrambled for eggs, others headed to Redwood Park, and birders ventured out across the county and beyond as a part of Godwit Days, Humboldt’s annual birding festival, along the west bank of the Mad River just up from the hatchery, a Belted Kingfisher struggled at the end of a long strand of fishing line. The line was entangled in overhanging branches and the bird, a female, presumably preparing with her partner for the season of rearing young, was suspended above the river, the line wrapped around the flight feathers of her left wing.

BEKI 22 April 14 - 02

A young man, Brian, had been walking along the bank – it was a warm, bright day – and saw her struggling. There was no one else around. He called Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. He offered to wait for our rescue team to arrive on scene to show us exactly her location.

It’s a terrible thing to see a bird snared in fishing line, struggling to get free, nowhere to stand. Serious injury seems certain and quite possibly life threatening. Brian saved this kingfisher’s life. If he hadn’t seen her or hadn’t called, a long, suffering death awaited her, all due to fishing line lost into the wild and forgotten.

BEKI 22 April 14 - 03During her exam, the kingfisher was clearly dehydrated, as her “squinty-eyes” attest.

We quickly placed a net below her to support her weight while we snipped the line. No apparent injuries were seen – the line wrapped her left wing’s primary feathers, but no bones were broken, nor was any skin. She was exhausted and dehydrated. She was still willing to fight. We brought her back to our clinic.

After a complete exam – she was in relatively good shape, a healthy bird, living well – we gave her a mild pain medication and anti-inflammatory drug, warmed fluids, and a safe, quiet place to rest.

BEKI 22 April 14 - 01Kingfishers’ 3rd and 4th toes are united. We call this kind of foot syndactyl.

Two years ago, when we were building our waterfowl aviary, we included a perch high above the pool. No duck or goose would ever use it, but we know that occasionally a kingfisher will come into care. Kingfishers in their home plunge-dive, like a tern, an osprey, or a Brown pelican, for their fish. Small, powerful birds with an extreme amount of panache, in captivity they can be difficult to feed. This aviary was about to get its test.

The next day in care we gavage-fed a liquid protein diet to continue her re-hydration. She was alert and attempting to fly so we moved her to the waterfowl aviary with the kingfisher perch. Over the course of that day she improved rapidly – not well enough to be released yet, but highly encouraging.

BEKI 22 April 14 - 04Our waterfowl aviary does double duty as Kingfisher housing.

The next morning she was sitting in the early sun, on the high perch above the pool that we’d stocked with small “feeder” fish. At her morning check she flew in circles  around the aviary. She was fully restored. Her flight was perfect. She was a lucky bird.

Her release evaluation was quickly completed and the kingfisher was driven back up to Blue Lake and the river above the hatchery.

BEKI 22 April 14 - 06Belted Kingfisher, on her perch in the morning sun – feeling much better!

Fishing line kills thousands of animals along our coast each year. Our annual clean-up days do a lot to raise awareness and improve the environment, but much more is needed. Every time we go into the woods, to the beach, down the river, to the grocery store, we need to see what stupid thing has been lost or littered and pick it up. What if this beautiful and fit kingfisher had gotten tangled 3 weeks from now, and she hadn’t been seen. It could easily have gone that way, and somewhere it will. She would have died and somewhere nearby, her babies would have cried for her return that would never come. Earth Day is a fine thing, but really, Mother Earth needs us every day. Just as we need her.


Your support makes our rescue and rehabilitation efforts possible. Please donate what you can. Every contribution helps us provide skilled and equipped care for native wildlife. Thank YOU!

Scroll down for more pictures and video of release.

BEKI 22 April 14 - 08Capture for release evaluation – not as easy as it looks…

BEKI 22 April 14 - 09The long path home, into the wild!

BEKI 22 April 14 - 10Arriving at the river’s bank…

BEKI 22 April 14 - 13A rare moment…

BEKI 22 April 14 - 18Happy wildlife caregivers celebrate Earth day every day!

BEKI 22 April 14 - 14Photos of birds flying away are the best!

BEKI 22 April 14 - 16Belted Kingfisher’s plea, “Don’t leave your killing debris in our river!”

All photographs Laura Corsiglia/BAX.


Wounded Western Grebes of 2014

16 04 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…

A Letter to Humboldt County – Support the Ban on Hounding Bear and Bobcat – no on AB 2205

8 04 2014

Recently,  Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, representing Califonia’s 33rd Assembly district, introduced a bill (AB 2205) to repeal SB 1221, which was signed into law September 26, 2012, banning the use of dogs to hunt bear and bobcat. The use of dogs in this manner is wholly inconsistent with ecosystem-based management and science-based policy, both of which are lawfully required of all California Department of Fish and Wildlife policy and regulations.

When this practice was legal, its conduct consisted of turning radio-collared hounds loose to pursue, without supervison, whatever they might find through wilderness areas covering miles while hunters tracked the signal the collar emitted. When the dogs had treed their quarry, the hounds’ owners would converge on the scene and shoot the wild animal. As one hunter recently said in a statement supporting AB 2205, it didn’t matter if he was pursuing bear; if his dogs treed a bobcat, he’d shoot the bobcat.

As co-director of Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, and as chair of the Advocacy Committee for the California Council for Wildlife Rehabilitators, I must oppose AB 2205. There is no decent reason to pursue bear or bobcat with hounds, especially as a sport. As a wildlife hospital, at BAX/HWCC we see first hand the injuries, orphanings and other detrimental impacts our modern society can and does have on wild communities near to us. To choose to inflict this kind of trauma for no more reason than personal amusment is against the spirit of our times. To allow or promote this kind of disrespect flies in the face of the kind of work that now needs to be done. We live in an era where leadership must show the way out of the wretched practices that have led to so many tragedies – the slaughter of species now extinct or struggling, the rivers fouled, the land poisoned, with small regard for anything but appetite. True leadership will take us into an era of co-existence and respect, not mere bloodsport.

As a member of a family that celebrates a long traditon of outdoor enjoyments – deer hunting, waterfowl hunting, small game hunting, ocean fishing, river fishing, bass fishing, harvesting maple, raising dairy cows, marking the seasons and following the infinite cycles of life,  all the small things we do when our lives are spent out of doors – I feel a stab of sorrow when I consider the actual circumstances of radio-collared hounds pursuing bear and bobcat through wild lands.  There is no more call to accommodate the very small minority of people who find this practice entertaining than there is to accommodate those who would torture housecats – regardless of whatever political advantage is gained in doing so.

Beside these personally felt reasons to support the ban on hounding bear and bobcat, there are ecosystem-based management reasons as well.

Hound Pursuit of Bear and Bobcat Not a Necessary Management Tool

There are unsubstantiated claims that AB 2205 is based in science, yet neither AB 2205’s sponsor nor any of the bill’s supporters have offered peer-reviewed science in support of this claim. Proponents of AB 2205 claim that bear and bobcat need to be hound-hunted in order to properly manage these species.  Proponents also claim that “nuisance” bears and bears that pose a threat to public safety need to be managed by recreational hound-hunters.  SB 1221 allows for the appropriate take of problem predators by CDFW Wildlife Officers. Additionally, as Marc Kenyon (until recently the statewide CDFW Bear Program Coordinator, now at the Wildlife Investigations Lab) has stated, “California has no management strategy for controlling the bear population, but rather sets take limits to allow recreational use of bears without harming the population.”

Last year, after SB1221 went into effect, 40% less bears were killed than the previous year.  (1,040 bears killed in 2013 vs 1,962 killed in 2012). This statistic is consistent with both the general yearly decline in hunting in California as well as the ratio of bears killed with dogs versus those killed without. (46% of bears killed in 2012 were taken with hounds.) It is estimated that there are approximately 36,000 Black Bear in our state. This is not a very high number.

According to Rick Hopkins (founder of the ecological consulting firm Live Oak Associates, who has an extensive background in large carnivore management), recreational hunting, with or without hounds, when using credible science and ecosystem-based planning, is not a tool of predator management. Dr. Hopkins states that the “approach that relies on management of predators by prophylactic control measures or sport hunting is inconsistent with predation theory or the scientific literature.”

Allowing Hounds Loose in Wild Lands Negatively Impacts Non-target Wildlife, is Inhumane

The impact of loosened hounds on non-targeted wildlife is also a harm that cannot be ignored. Personal witness, common sense and scientific inquiry agree that a pack of baying hounds running loose over miles of wild habitat will, at the very least, cause unwarranted stress on the wild animals they encounter. These encounters may even provoke life threatening situations for either wildlife or the free-running dogs. With many species, juveniles stay with their parents for their first winter, a relationship that can be easily disturbed by packs of hounds set loose in wild lands. Hound-hunting also poses inhumane risks for the hounds as well, who are in danger of becoming lost, injured, or killed.

When hound pursuit of Black Bear was legal, it was typical for hound hunters to chase bear without killing. While only one tag is sold to each hunter, there was no limit to the number of bears and bobcat that could be pursued for the chase only.  In 2012, according to the Bear Take Report issued by CDFW:

… 42% of returned bear harvest tags indicated bears were taken with the assistance of dogs, whereas 48% of bears were reportedly taken without using dogs; 10% did not report. On average, hound hunters (individuals who reported taking a bear with the assistance of dogs) spent 4.4 days in the field before taking a bear, compared to 3.7 days for non-hound hunters. This disparity in effort likely reflects hound-hunters’ self-reported propensity to tree multiple bears before taking one (emphasis added)

The deleterious effects of hound hunting on the ecosytem that we might call collateral damage are significant and very possibly greater than the impact of the actual kills.

For all of these reasons, SB 1221 was a good step in the right direction. Banning hound-hunting of bear and bobcat is consistent with science-based predator management and the values of Californians.

California is joined by Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Colorado, as well as 10 other states that currently regulate bear hunting by other measures in banning the use of hounds to recreationally hunt bear.

Now Siskiyou and Mendocino Counties’ Boards of Supervisors have voted to support AB 2205, which would repeal the ban and leave it in the hands of each county to determine its own policies regarding the use of hounds to pursue bear and bobcat, apparently irrespective of ecosystem-based management.

As co-director of Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, I, along with our other co-directors and staff as well as our supporters, urge the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to not follow in these footsteps. Let’s not retreat from the recent gains of our Natural Resource Agency has made in modernizing California’s oversight and conservation of our natural heritage.

Humboldt County has a reputation as the home of sound wildlife management science in California and beyond. Thank you for helping create and maintain that reputation.


Monte Merrick
Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center
California Council for Wildlife Rehabilitators

Feathers: What makes a bird? by Thor Hanson

3 04 2014

A short talk by the author of Feathers, an excellent recent book on the natural history of one of the things that really makes birds possible.

d-CON Producer Sues California to Fight Controls on Super-toxic Rat Poisons

1 04 2014

New Rodenticide Limits Would Protect Wildlife and Pets From Poisoning

SAN DIEGO— The makers of d-CON products have filed a lawsuit challenging a California effort to limit the sale of super-toxic rat poisons to licensed specialists. The state’s new restriction on retail sales of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides, due to take effect July 1, seeks to protect wildlife and pets from accidental poisoning. Poisonings have been documented in at least 25 species of wild animals in California, including mountain lions, hawks, endangered San Joaquin kit foxes and northern spotted owls, as well as numerous cats and dogs.

Arroyo toad
San Joaquin kit fox photo courtesy USFWS. More photos of species affected by rodenticides are available for media use.

“It’s disgusting that d-CON continues to challenge common-sense controls for protecting wildlife, children and pets,” said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s time to put public safety before corporate profits.”

The regulations from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation target products sold to the general public in retail outlets and limits super-toxic rodenticide use beyond 50 feet of manmade structures. These super-toxic poisons — called second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides — will still be available for widespread use by licensed commercial and agricultural pest-control operators.

“Reckitt Benckiser knows that California’s bold decision to take d-CON off the shelves is a preview of things to come in other states,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice. “Reckitt is fighting hard to hold on to the past, but the corporation should know that we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure d-CON does not become the DDT of our time.”

Reckitt Benckiser is the parent company of d-CON and is also currently challenging a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to limit the sale of super-toxic rat poison without tamper-resistant packaging to avoid unintentional poisonings of children.

“So much for corporate responsibility,” said Jason Rylander, senior attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. “Now that both EPA and the state of California have moved to curb the use of d-Con and other risky poisons, Reckitt Benckiser needs to do the right thing and stop fighting measures that could save kids and protect wildlife.”

Conservation groups have called on retailers to stop selling d-CON products that EPA has labeled too hazardous for public use. Reckitt Benckiser is the parent company for a range of other consumer products including French’s mustard, Clearasil, Durex, Woolite and Lysol.

“We urge people to boycott all Reckitt-Benckiser products,” said Lisa Owens Viani, director of Raptors Are the Solution. “This company couldn’t care less about children, pets, and wildlife and we urge the public to let them know that this is unacceptable.”

“The lingering effects of the rat poison wreak havoc up the food chain, impacting endangered species such as the San Joaquin Kit Fox, and Reckitt Benckiser’s intransigence is calculated to make its environmentally devastating product linger on the market,” said Andrew Christie, director of the Sierra Club’s Santa Lucia Chapter.

“There are many effective and less harmful rodent control methods still available to consumers,” said Medha Chandra, campaign coordinator at the Pesticide Action Network North America. “Reckitt Benckiser shouldn’t be allowed to continue selling their super toxic rat poisons in California.”

Safe alternatives to rat poison can be used to address rodent outbreaks in homes and rural areas. Effective measures include rodent-proofing of homes and farms by sealing cracks and crevices and eliminating food sources; providing owl boxes to encourage natural predation; and utilizing traps that don’t involve these highly toxic chemicals. For more information visit

Anticoagulant rodenticides interfere with blood clotting, resulting in uncontrollable bleeding that leads to death. Second-generation anticoagulants — including the compounds brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difethialone and difenacoum — are especially hazardous and persist for a long time in body tissues. These slow-acting poisons are often eaten for several days by rats and mice, causing the toxins to accumulate at many times the lethal dose in their tissues, poisoning predators that eat the weakened rodents.

Studies have documented second-generation anticoagulants in more than 70 percent of wildlife tested, including eagles, hawks, owls, foxes, bobcats and mountain lions. Over a 10-year period rodenticides caused, on average, more than 160 severe poisonings of pets annually. According to data from the EPA, each year up to 10,000 children are accidentally exposed to rat poison in their homes.

Along with its recent challenge of the EPA’s proposal to require tamper-resistant packaging to protect children, Reckitt Benckiser has repeatedly fought attempts by regulators to limit unintentional poisonings. The Environmental Protection Agency initially proposed protections for children and pets from rat poisons as early as 1998, but withdrew that proposal in the face of industry opposition. Ten years later, in 2008, the EPA moved forward with restrictions that have been repeatedly challenged by Reckitt Benckiser.

Click here to learn more about the dangers of rodenticides.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Spring, Renewal and being an Ally to Birds (mammals to come)

29 03 2014

The suddenly boisterous and highly visible activity of birds is one of the joys of Spring. Swallows, thrushes, egrets, mallards, geese and more are returned from the South, often coming several thousand miles to nest here in Humboldt County. Adults spend almost everything to make the journey, preparing for the oldest song and dance; – the hummingbird’s dazzling aerobatics, the grebe’s water ballet, the Red-winged blackbird at the top of the tree trilling for company – all around us these birds begin the season’s work of bringing their babies into the world. Renewal and rebirth – the spark of life is passed on.

IMG_20130524_173835A nest of House finches brought to our clinic, Spring 2013  (photo: mmerrick/BAX)

Right in our own backyards nest sites are selected. Close to shopping! Close to schools! Babies must be fed, after all, and adolescent birds get only a short apprenticeship before they must shift for themselves.

Once the eggs are laid parent birds are tied down, busy and focused. Once the chicks are hatched, frequent trips from sun up to sun down keeping babies fed is the routine life of mama and papa. It takes a lot of mosquitoes to make one swallow and many swallows raise two nestfuls each year.

Fledgling birds think they’re big enough and jump from nests before they can fly! Parents stay near feeding them on the ground or in branches and call sharply when danger is near. It can take as long as a week before these youngsters really have their wings.

Birders and casual enjoyers of birds are drawn to their beauty, feathers and song. Unlike wild mammals, many species of birds live their lives in the open, for all to see. We may never see a Long-tailed weasel in our lives, but here are House finches feeding their young just beyond the window.

As lovers of wildlife we cherish the close view birds allow, but this nearness brings such risk. If we get too close we can scare a parent bird away from a nest leaving a young featherless baby to go hungry, go thirsty – even die! Our houses are built where birds have lived for millions of years and our cars race through what used to be pasture of bounty, grass seeds and insects and all manner of good things. House cats roaming the lawn thrilled to pretend they are on the savannah, stalking game through the tall blades. But their kills are all too real, and a parent is left to feed a nest of five alone – it can’t be done and some will starve.

It feels good to be outside working in the long evenings, cleaning up the yard, planting bulbs; – yet we might trim a few branches and a nest full of hope crashes to the ground.

As Mother Earth rolls the Northern Hemisphere back into Spring, it’s important and good to get outside and rejoice in our shared and beautiful life. Being in nature is the only way to know and love her. Seeing our wild neighbors renews our own lives. As Henry Thoreau famously noticed, ‘in wildness is the preservation of the world.’ Any grandparent or songbird will tell you, do not harm what preserves us. Enjoy being close but allow who we see the privacy and the space to simply be. Be mindful of wild lives.

DSC_0429mallBaby Mallards in the aviary they were raised in after losing their mother. 2013 (photo: Laura Corsiglia/BAX)

Things you can do:

  • Keep cats indoors, or make an enclosed space outdoors.
  • Don’t trim branches during baby season. Plants prefer to be trimmed in fall anyway.
  • Give nests a wide berth. Enjoy with binoculars!
  • Feathered young birds hopping around the ground are probably learning to fly. Help them by keeping kids, cats and dogs away.

If you’ve found an animal you think needs help, or you have a problem with a wild family in your home or yard:

call bax\Humboldt Wildlife Care Center – 822-8839
Spring and Summer
9am – 7pm everyday


What am I in for? Well, let me tell you….

20 03 2014

This Western Gull, entangled in fishing line and hooks at Trinidad Pier, was recently in our care (photos and story soon to come). You can help Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center rescue and provide the necessary care for wild animals, like this gull, who encounter the modern world at its worst.

mar-april jar
No one wants a fish hook for dinner.

Please contribute. Thank you for being a part of this life-saving work!


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