Jan 30, 2015

Band-tailed pigeon die-off - what you can do!

In parts of California this time of year, band-tailed pigeons appear in abundance, flocking together in large groups near oak woodlands and conifer forests. 

Band-tailed pigeons can be identified by a yellow bill and yellow feet, and a lovely, violet-hued plumage.

Currently, California's coastal population of band-tailed pigeons is experiencing a significant mortality event caused by avian trichomonosis.

Experts warn we may lose thousands, which would be devastating to a species already in decline and with a slow recovery rate. Band-tailed pigeons only produce one chick per year.

Avian trichomoniasis is caused by a single-celled protozoan that causes "cheese-like" lesions in the mouth and throat. As the disease worsens, a bird loses its ability to swallow, and dies of starvation or suffocation.

When an ill pigeon has trouble swallowing, it will drop infected seed from its mouth. As it tries to drink, the protozoa can spread to other birds through the water.

This video (below) shows a band-tailed pigeon suffering from trichomonosis.

You can do your part to help reduce the spread of this horrible disease!

Band-taileds feed on seed, on the ground and from bird feeders and they are attracted to bird baths and garden fountains. This is where the parasite spreads quickly, especially when the pigeons flock in such great numbers.

Help prevent the spread of the disease by taking away any attractants - remove bird feeders, prevent the pigeons from sharing feed with poultry, and take away their access to any water sources, like fountains and bird baths.

Report dead or dying band-tailed pigeons to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, HERE or call (916) 358-2790. More from CDFW on this mortality event, HERE.

A reminder:

In general, it's not a good idea to feed wildlife. It causes animals to group up in unusually high numbers where diseases can spread easily. It conditions animals to an artificial food source, changing their normal, healthy foraging behavior. Lastly, it can be a death sentence, especially in an urban setting where increased wildlife sightings and conflicts result in animals being killed.

Even when there is not a significant disease outbreak, feeding wild birds comes with great responsibility:

  • Bird feeders must be thoroughly washed and disinfected weekly. 
  • Bird baths must be rinsed daily, disinfected and let to air dry in the sun at least once a week. 
  • The ground beneath a bird feeder must be kept free of seed so birds aren't feeding on soiled material and so there is not such an attraction for rodents.

Jan 21, 2015

WES responding to mystery incident in the Bay

On Sunday, Wildlife Emergency Services (WES) was alerted of a situation in the San Francisco Bay - numerous sea birds were being found along the shore of Hayward, coated in a gooey substance. 

The birds were first observed on Friday!

California Office of Spill Prevention and Response collected samples but due to the holiday weekend testing to identify the substance was postponed until Tuesday. They did, however, declare it nontoxic and not petroleum-based. 

Good news for responders, but not such great news for the birds - the substance coated their feathers just the same as oil.

Feathers are like shingles of a roof - it's their structure and alignment that keep out the wind and rain. When something, impairs a bird's weatherproofing, it's just a matter of time before the bird becomes hypothermic and dies from exposure to the cold environment.

By the time we were alerted, it was Day Three. The clock was ticking.

With any event involving birds that have lost their waterproofing, it's a race against time to collect the birds before they succumb to the cold. The longer a compromised bird remains in the environment, the weaker it becomes, and the less chance it has of surviving the cleaning process.

In this window of opportunity, responders focus on the most heavily coated birds first - the ones that cannot float or fly. Oddly enough, they often do the best because they are found and collected quickly. 

It's the ones that are still very mobile and flighted that prove the most difficult to catch.

It requires training, skill, and special equipment. It requires strategic planning and cooperation among responding parties to successfully capture flighted birds. They mustn't be hazed or chased after as this can cause them to disperse from the area.

Duane Titus stalking a scoter at San Leandro Marina.

WES specializes in response to animals in distress. Its founder, Rebecca Dmytryk, author of Wildlife Search and Rescue, is an expert in capturing wildlife, along with her husband, Duane Titus, who has lead search and recovery efforts on numerous oil spills, including the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

After hearing about the birds being found along the shore near Hayward, WES mounted a response, calling on their volunteers to help. Colleague, Mark Russell, representing International Bird Rescue, also responded.

Because the substance isn't a petroleum product, a formal, structured response by state, federal and local agencies was absent. We were on our own. The conundrum is explained well, HERE.

Deanna Barth ready to head onto the mudflats.

We gathered at the East Bay Regional Parks Office at the end of West Winton, in Hayward. That became our staging area, thanks to the Park Service.

Before noon, a team of 4 trained volunteers from WES were scouring the shoreline in search of birds. It wasn't long before they'd captured a dozen birds coated in the sticky substance.

To document where birds were found, dead or alive, our search teams used a mobile app, Theodolite (iOS) or GeoCam (Android).

Together, with 3 responders from International Bird Rescue and support from East Bay Regional Parks, at least 60 birds were rescued before dark - birds that might not have made it another night exposed to the elements.

End of first day in the field.

On Monday and Tuesday, the joint, collaborative response from International Bird Rescue and Wildlife Emergency Services, with support from East Bay Regional Parks, proved extremely successful, capturing more than 100 birds.

Andrew Bear and his son Ben after rescuing ducks on the mudflats.

Check out some great news coverage, HERE, and HERE.

Check out some capture clips, below:

On Wednesday, WES assumed the lead in field response, coordinating rescue efforts with assistance from Deb Self from Baykeeper, who helped coordinate volunteers and media inquires. (Thank you, Deb!)

By Wednesday evening, sightings of birds in distress had dropped. It was time to call off official search and rescue efforts and focus more on responding to reports from the public.

Thanks to an outpouring of support from the public and the local birding community, we have had volunteers scoping the shoreline ever since.

On Thursday afternoon, WES' volunteer Tori set out to survey the area and respond to reports of beached scoters. 

She needed a net in case she found the birds, so she stopped by West Marine to pick up a long-handled net (that barely fit into her car).

Following the directions given by the person who first spotted the scoter at 9:00 AM , Tori checked out the area across from the Harbor Bay Club and sure enough, found a live scoter and caught it in her new net! Way to go Tori!

The bird was immediately transported to International Bird Rescue. 

Check out an interactive Google Earth map of some of the sightings (yellow pins) and captured birds (green markers), HERE. You'll need Google Earth to view it. Get Google Earth HERE.

Friday was fairly quiet, with only a few reports of birds. Tori resumed scouting for birds. Sadly, she found one that was called about the day before, but it had died. 

Today, Saturday, Tori rescued a very wet, very cold bufflehead from Emeryville Marina. This is the farthest north we've recovered birds.

We're still concerned for the number of shorebirds, dunlins, sandpipers and whimbrels along the Hayward Regional Shoreline. Some are quite contaminated, yet still flighted. 

A good soaking from rain might slow them down, but with no rain in the forecast, their capture is doubtful.

In an effort to strengthen wildlife response capabilities in the Bay Area, we are offering an Oiled Bird Rescue training on February 20th at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Register, HERE.

We want to thank all of our responders who helped search for and capture birds - Dana Angus, Deanna Barth, Andrew and Ben Bear, Tori Carpenter, Rebecca Dmytryk, Ron Eby, Duane Titus, and Ken Weidner, and to our new volunteer, Kira Gunderson. To IBR responders, Mark Russell, Susie Kosina, Sean Boty, Amber Transou, and the many folks who helped scour the shoreline looking for birds.

A big thank you to Deb Self with BayKeeper for helping coordinate volunteers, to Jerry Mix with International Bird Rescue for providing emergency transport, and the OWCN for providing the stabilization trailer.

Finally, the rescue of the hundreds or so birds we collected would not have been possible without the help from East Bay Regional Park Supervisor, Mark Taylor, rangers Joel Eisler and Chris Benoit, and wildlife biologist Dave "Doc Quack" Riensche.

Lastly, these birds would not stand a chance if it were not for the expert care they are receiving through International Bird Rescue in Fairfield, leaders in treating birds impacted by oil and other pollutants. Thanks to everyone who has supported their efforts to get these birds stabilized, washed and ready for return to the wild.

WES is a small nonprofit based in Moss Landing. We would not be able to respond to such large-scale events if it were not for support from our volunteers and donors.

We're grateful for those who chipped in to offset the cost of our response, especially helpful was a donation made in Memory of Eldon Olson. Sponsor WES for a day or more, HERE.

Support WES by check, made out to W. E. S. and mailed to Box 65, Moss Landing, CA 95039, or make a donation online, HERE

Check out live feed from the IBR center in Fairfield. Clean birds, HERE!
Thank you IBR!!! 

Jan 14, 2015

American white pelican sighting

We want to thank Janna Pauser for alerting us to an American white pelican at Almaden Lake in Santa Clara County. 

Sightings of white pelicans in the area are rare, but what caught our attention was that the bird was alone - not traveling with other white pelicans, and it appeared very tired, seen sleeping rather than actively feeding.

Janna first spotted January 7th, standing on the shore of the lake's small island. It was in the same spot the next day. 

Janna checked again on Monday the 12th, and found the bird still on the island, resting.

This morning, one of the park rangers responded to our call for assistance. 

He took a boat out to the island to look for the pelican bit it was gone.

This afternoon, Janna was birding at Calero Reservoir and noticed a single white pelican sleeping among gulls on a spit of land in the center of the reservoir. We believe it's the same bird.

If the bird was in a more accessible spot, we would probably attempt a capture - just to see if the bird was in good health or not (we suspect not). 

It could just be that it's an individual that's failing to thrive and not meant to make it - natural selection - the culling of the weak. 

If this is the case, it's best that we don't interfere with nature.

On the other hand, it could be suffering from injury or illness caused by humans, in which case we should try to help.

Stay tuned!

Jan 10, 2015

Wildlife SAR Training in Napa

Yesterday, WES provided a full-day training on Wildlife Search and Rescue to a class of 34 students interested in learning or bettering their wildlife capture skills. 

The class was comprised of wildlife rescuers, two animal control officers, a lieutenant with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and local folks interested in learning how to help an injured or orphaned wild animal.

Today, they were given hands-on instruction on building traps and using equipment to safely capture and contain animals.

This was the first of the 2015 classes being offered throughout California. Download the flyer, HERE. Register for a class, HERE.

Jan 9, 2015

Friday Rounds

By Deanna Barth

Today, I decided to start my rounds at the Monterey Wharf, because it had been a while since I'd been there. 

When I arrived, for some reason, I decided to walk along the bike and pedestrian path that hugged the shoreline, instead of searching the pier. 

As I walked, I kept my focus on the water's edge, checking for any sick or injured birds. When I came to what I like to call pelican rock - a rock that sits out in the shallow. A favorite loafing spot for pelicans and cormorants. I sat down and used my binoculars to scan each bird.  

One of the cormorants had its head tucked into its feather, asleep. I thought I caught the glimmer of fishing line but couldn't be sure.  

I watched for about 20 minutes until the bird finally unfolded itself and began to preen. That's when I could clearly see the line, at least a foot of it, trailing from the hook lodged in it's bill.

I immediately started thinking of all the different rescue strategies - how could I safely reach and rescue this bird. 

Cormorants are not easy to capture, even when they cannot fly, and it was obvious that this bird was still flighted. So, as soon as anyone got near, it would most certainly take off.

We would have to determine where and when it hangs out - determine its behavior pattern, and possibly come up with a plan for a night rescue to better our chances (some birds are easier to capture in the dark). Otherwise, the only way I was going to capture this bird was if the line were to get snagged on a branch or other structure.  

I watched in frustration as the bird began to hop around the rock, constantly rubbing its head in an attempt to remove the line. 

Suddenly the bird stopped, forcefully threw its head back and began to flap its wings - the line was stuck on the rock!  

I watched helplessly as this bird struggled to free itself. I needed to leave to get help.

I packed up my gear and walked over to the Coast Guard jetty where I approached several crew members that were working nearby. I explained the dilemma and although they would have been happy to assist, regulations would not allow for their boat to enter such shallow water.  

Next, I drove to the Harbor Master's Office and asked for their help.

I was thrilled when they said yes!!!  Fifteen minutes later I was on a boat.

The tide was low, and with only 3' of water between the bottom of the boat and the sharp rocks, the skipper was concerned. He cautiously maneuvered the boat up to the large rock, stopping about a foot short.  

During our approach, all the birds took to the sky except for the tethered cormorant, which was now violently thrashing back and forth to get away from me - the big predator. 

To reach the bird, I needed to scramble up the rock, but the boat was rocking, the surface of the rocks was jagged and slippery and my first priority must be my own safety. As frustrating as this can be, I knew there was a limit to what I could do.

With net in hand, I took some time to gain my balance before stepping off the boat. Again, I took time to carefully scale the rock. Finally, when I'd made it to the top where I could reach the cormorant with my net - it took off! 

My biggest fear was that the line would snap and it would fly away with the debris, but, to my surprise, the hook had come dislodged from its bill!  

I picked up the line with hook and weight still attached and made my way back to the boat and back to shore where I thanked the Harbor Master for assisting me in this rescue. It wasn't the rescue I had hoped for, but it certainly ended up being a positive outcome for the bird.

Jan 1, 2015

New Year's Day release

Photo courtesy Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley.

Today was an extra special New Year's Day for WES responders who returned an opossum back to the wild.

After two months of rehabilitative care at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley (WCSV), a female opossum was set free in a wooded area of west Santa Cruz, about a mile from where she was found injured.

Back in October, rescuers responded to a call about an opossum with its lower jaw stuck in the wire mesh of a cage trap. On arrival, they found the opossum had gotten its mouth free from the wire, but had sustained a severe injury, down to the bone. Read the full story HERE.

Thanks to the expert care received through WCSV, this Virginia opossum has been given a second chance to live wild and free. 

Check out the video of its twilight release:

We also want to thank our supporters for donating towards the medical care of this animal. Here is a Thank You letter from WCSV acknowledging your contributions (click to enlarge).

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