Dec 28, 2012

Perceiving Jizz

One of our lead responders, Deanna Barth, experienced a breakthrough moment this week - she experienced an awareness - a heightened perception, common among great birders. It's the ability to recognize, accurately identify, and discern the condition of a living thing based on its jizz.

First written about in 1922 by ornithologist Thomas A. Coward in Bird Haunts and Nature Memories, jizz is a term used to describe the essence of a living thing - the "impression" of an organism. Not its color, shape, size, or carriage, but all of those things and more, including an animal's state of health, which is what rescuers key on. As Coward put it, it is character rather than characteristics, the tout ensemble of the subject.

Here's Deanna's story of what happened:


Today, I experienced something amazing - a moment when I "just knew" there was something wrong with an animal even though I couldn't say exactly what it was. Rebecca and Duane talk about this in their wildlife rescue training classes, but I hadn't experienced it until today. 
I was on my way to check for injured pelicans on 
Old Fisherman's Wharf when I briefly glanced over at the beach 
near the entrance to the pier. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a gull in the sand, and in a flash I knew something was wrong.

I walked closer and could see other gulls perched on rocks nearby, but this one was resting alone, facing away from the water, and it just had a "look" about it. Something just wasn't right.

I had fish fillets and a bed sheet in case I found a pelican that needed to be captured, so I went back to my vehicle for Fritos and a net, instead.

I walked down onto the little beach where the bird was, and tossed a handful of crumbled Fritos. The gull slowly stood up on one leg and hobbled towards me, holding its left foot out. Pitiful.

I routinely see gulls with leg injuries, and if they seem like they've adapted to the impairment and are otherwise thriving, I leave them be. I'm not sure if there was something else going on besides the leg injury, but this particular gull did not appear to be doing well. He baited-in quickly and was easy to capture. I drove him to the SPCA for Monterey County Wildlife Center for care.


Next month, it will be two years since I met Duane and Rebecca and started volunteering  with WildRescue, and I finally feel like some of the things you just can't teach - the things one has to learn by doing (over and over) - are happening.