I usually do my weekly "rounds" in Monterey, where I find enough injured birds to keep me occupied, but in the last couple of weeks I've been checking out the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf.
Last Friday, I saw a number of gulls there, suffering from old injuries. There were a couple missing one foot, and one that had barely a stump.
Another, had suffered a leg injury that left its leg frozen and pointing backwards. In flight, the leg sticks straight up.
When I returned to the Santa Cruz Pier on Monday, to my horror, the bird with the stiff leg had a fishhook in its mouth with long line dangling down.
It spent most of its time resting on a dumpster either wiping its face on the lid or pawing at it with its foot. It was in obvious discomfort.
I tried for several hours to lure it close, but to no avail. It showed little interest in feeding, and remained at a safe distance on the roof of a car!
I was determined to help this bird. In preparation for its capture, I contacted my rescue supervisors to discuss the possibility of removing the hook and releasing the gull on site rather than putting it through the stress of transport to a wildlife hospital.
They said, so long as the wound is minor, I could remove the hook and release.
I returned to the pier on Wednesday. Shortly after I arrived, I found the gull - easy to spot from a distance with that leg pointing out. It was perched on “its” dumpster again, and it had drawn the attention of a small crowd of concerned people.
The bird appeared skittish. Someone had probably tried to capture it.
I propped up my long-handled net against the dumpster and tried baiting the bird close. An hour passed. I had lured in about 20 gulls, but not the one I wanted.
I decided to try another tactic. I laid my net down flat in the parking lot, made a pile of crumbles on either side of it and walked away. I sat at the back of my vehicle for another hour, waiting for all the other birds to get their fill and move on. Once they did, the injured gull approached alone.
I casually walked over to the end of my net, and as as the bird was eating, I sat down quietly. It watched me intently for a few minutes, and then went back to eating.
These are the most intense seconds of a rescue - waiting for that split-second opportunity. As soon as the gull put its head back down, I flipped the net and "bagged" my bird. I was thrilled!
After carefully removing him from the net, I carried the frightened bird to the back of my vehicle where I could better evaluate its hook injury.
It appeared fairly minor - the hook was embedded on the outer part of the bill. I used small clippers to cut the barb and tried to gently push the hook through, but the end of the hook was tiny and barely visible. I needed an even smaller tool, and could have used an extra hand.
Out of the crowd of concerned bystanders, a man approached - his name was Tim. He quickly got a smaller pair of pliers from his vehicle and was able to remove the remainder of the hook as I held the bird. Tim's help was invaluable.
The wound bled a little after the hook was removed. Having worked in a veterinary hospital for many years, I felt comfortable in my ability to clean the area and apply pressure with sterile gauze to stop the bleeding.
After a couple of minutes and with no other injuries found, I released the gull on the spot.
This rescue was a unique circumstance for which I am so grateful. To have the authorization to administer first-aid in the field was such a rewarding experience.