Every Bird Matters
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Archive for March 2017

March 30, 2017

The Release Files: Common Loon

This beautiful Common Loon was picked up from Seacliff State Beach in Aptos and brought to Native Animal Rescue of Santa Cruz County on March 4, 2017.

She was found to be thin with a small wound where her beak comes together and some toe abrasions.

We took radiographs (x-rays) to rule out hook ingestion (since mouth wounds can be caused by swallowing fishing gear) and fortunately they were negative. She waterproofed quickly but was having some issues thermoregulating, so we monitored her closely and after a few days she was living out in the pool full time and was eating very well!

She was released on March 22. Kudos to everyone who was involved in her recovery!

Photo by staffer Jennifer Linander

 

March 26, 2017

They’re Not “Seagulls”— and Other Fun Gull Facts!

Western Gulls and their three chicks at their a nest at the Ferry Terminal in San Francisco.

By Joanna Chin
Photos by Byron Chin

I have been a fan of gulls for over fifteen years. Amusingly enough, what piqued my interest was the gulls in the movie Finding Nemo. While those gulls were not the brightest, and thus their portrayal not the most accurate, I was so amused by them that I started paying more attention to the gulls around me. When you really look at them, gulls are beautiful, with their crisp white and gray feathers. They’re also adaptable—equally at ease on land, in the air, and on the water. While anyone can look at a gull and identify it as such, defining them is a challenge: My guide to North American Gulls defines them as a “widespread group of frequently gregarious, web-footed birds characteristically found near water.” I’ve learned a lot about gulls over the years, and though there is still so much for me to learn, I want to share some of my favorite gull facts so that you, too, might appreciate these intelligent and resourceful seabirds more.

• While many people refer to them as “seagulls,” this is a misnomer. Some gull species travel far inland, such as the Ring-billed Gull, and others are quite satisfied to hang around large lakes, rivers, and shipping channels.

• Gulls have an intricate system of communication. They’re big, strong birds that nest close to one another, and their extensive “vocabulary” helps to minimize fighting that could injure them or their chicks. This video from the Cornell Laboratory identifies and explains many of their calls. Next time you’re around a group of gulls, see if you can hear them making these calls—each species sounds a bit different, but they all have the same range of calls.

A pair of California Gulls and their two chicks. The male is giving the female a nice preen.

• Gulls have impressive site fidelity. They will return to the same area year after year to build their nests and raise their chicks. In the case of migratory gull species, many of these are faithful to their wintering sites, returning to the same territory winter after winter. If you pay attention to your local gulls, you will likely start to notice individuals hanging out in the same place every year!

• Gulls are monogamous. Most will stay with the same mate for many years, though “gull divorce” has been documented, often when there is conflict over nest-site or brooding duties or when one member of the pair is late returning to the nesting grounds. In addition, both males and females sometimes mate with birds other than their mate; these so-called “extra-pair copulations” occur with varying frequency amongst gull species.

Juvenile Western Gull by the Ferry Building takes a curious approach to a fisheye lens.

• Gulls are excellent parents. Both parents participate equally in incubating, guarding, and feeding the chicks well past fledging. They are fiercely protective and readily attack (including dive-bombing) people and other animals (including other gulls) that get too close to their nests. It is wise to keep your distance from gull nests, and to pay attention to the calls of the parents. If they’re vocalizing, they are telling you to step back from the nest!

• It takes time for a gull to grow up. All gulls require more than one year to reach maturity. If you’ve ever watched gulls for any length of time, you’ve probably seen gulls that were the size of adults but were completely brown. These are the “first cycle” gulls, the ones that hatched within the past year. Smaller-sized gull species may require as few as two years to reach adult plumage, whereas the larger gull species need four years. As they mature, gulls lose their brown feathers, replacing them with white/gray/black feathers. Many gulls also have color changes in their bills and feet.

Seagull Monument, Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: Wikipedia

• Gulls can be heroes. According to Mormon legend, in the spring of 1848, the first group of Mormons in what is now Salt Lake City planted their crops, only to have a swarm of insects (now known as Mormon crickets) descend upon their fields and begin eating everything in sight. Soon after, large numbers of California Gulls arrived and began consuming vast numbers of the insects, thus saving the crops and ensuring the survival of the Mormon settlers. Thus, the California Gull was designated as the state bird of Utah. In addition, the Seagull Monument was erected in Salt Lake City in honor of the California Gull.

• Gulls thrive where humans reside. Most people are well aware of this: Anyone who’s been to the beach has likely seen (or been the victim of) gulls scavenging food. Gulls are intelligent and patient scavengers. They know our habits and where to find an easy meal. Instead of getting upset, consider that we are the ones making this behavior possible. We must change our behavior to change theirs. Gull overpopulation has become a serious issue in some areas, including having a negative impact on other bird species, particularly ground-nesting shorebirds, as gulls eat their eggs and chicks.

The Western Gull is a scavenger and temptations abound when human garbage is plentiful.

Ways you can help:

– Never, ever feed the gulls! In addition to teaching them bad habits, much of our food is harmful to their health.

– Dispose of food waste appropriately, in a covered bin. Don’t leave food unattended, such as in an open bag on the beach. Even a sealed bag of chips is easy pickings for a hungry gull!

– Reduce the amount of food you discard from your home. Instead of sending food scraps to the landfill, consider composting! Your plants will thank you, too.

Now, head out there and watch some gulls! Most places, especially along the California coast, feature multiple species of gulls. Read more here about basic identification of  common gull species!

 

March 24, 2017

A Weakened EPA Means Even More Need for Bird Rescue

With current threats to clean water, regulation and protection of endangered species, our work is as critical as ever. International Bird Rescue is a world leader in oiled wildlife response and aquatic bird rehabilitation, with the mission to mitigate human impact.

Bird Rescue came into being in 1971 after an oil spill near the Golden Gate Bridge resulted in the contamination of thousands of seabirds. For the last 46 years, we have remained on standby to respond to large-scale spills and human-caused disasters.

In our everyday work, we are responding to ever-increasing challenges for wildlife in our environment. We aim to provide the highest standard of care and to release as many rehabilitated birds as possible back into the wild.

In addition to delivering the necessary food and medical expertise to meet patients’ needs, we build public awareness and understanding of the environmental impacts of human activity on water birds and the ecosystems they inhabit.

Your support now will allow us to respond when we are needed. We hope it will not be soon, but we must be prepared no matter what challenge may arise.

To see a map of our global spill response efforts since 1971, click here.

 

March 21, 2017

Know Your Gulls: A Very Basic Guide To Identifying Our Local Gulls

By Joanna Chin

Anyone can identify a gull, but did you know that there are over 50 species of gulls worldwide? And do you know which gull species live near you, and how to tell them apart?

March is Gull Month at International Bird Rescue, and we think a good way to celebrate this month is to learn how to identify some of our local gull species! We’re going to look only at adult plumage here, since all gulls have juvenile plumages that can make identification tricky for even the most experienced of birders. We’ll start with the basics of five gull species in California.

Please note that there are more than five species of gulls in the state, but the ones we’re going to concentrate on are some of the more common and distinctive. If you are interested in more gull information, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has wonderful information on the family Laridae (which includes gulls and their close relatives, terns and skimmers)!

Western Gull

Female Western Gull does the “head-toss” motion to signal to her mate. Photo by Byron Chin

The Western Gull is one of the most common gull species on the California coast. It is a large gull with a fairly dark gray back, black primaries (the feathers at the tips of the wings), pink feet, a yellow orbital ring (the narrow ring of flesh around the eye), and a sturdy yellow bill with a bright red spot on the mandible (lower half of the bill) called the gonydeal spot. This red dot serves a special purpose: It’s a target that the gull chicks peck at to entice the adult to regurgitate food for them. Although very common along the coast, Western Gulls are rarely seen more than two miles inland. These gulls do not migrate, and their appearance does not change during breeding season.

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull is lighter grey than Western. Photo by Byron Chin

The Glaucous-winged Gull looks a lot like the Western Gull until you look carefully! For one thing, the Glaucous-winged Gull’s back is a much lighter gray. Also, this gull has no black at all—the primaries (wingtips) are the same light gray as its back— and both its legs and its orbital ring are pink. Like the Western Gull, The Glaucous-winged Gull has a yellow bill with a red gonydeal spot. These birds breed along the northern Pacific Coast but head down the coast in the wintertime. You will often see them with some brown speckling on their head in the winter (something you’ll never see on a Western Gull). But just to make things complicated, Glaucous-winged Gulls hybridize with Western Gulls, producing a gull that looks somewhat like each of them! This happens frequently enough that these hybrids, which are common on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, have their own name: the Olympic Gull.

California Gull

California Gull tends to be smaller than the Western or Glaucous-winged. Photo by Byron Chin

The California Gull travels farther inland than either the Western or Glaucous-winged Gull. It tends to hang out in parking lots, as well as near the coast. It is smaller than the Western or Glaucous-winged and has a medium-gray back with black primaries, yellow-green legs, and a red orbital ring. Its eye is very dark (much darker, in fact, than the Ring-billed Gull I’ll discuss in a moment), it has a red gonydeal spot on the mandible of its bill, and it has a black ring near the tip of its bill. The corners of its mouth turn downward a bit, giving it a distinctive “frowning” expression! Like the Glaucous-winged Gull, the California Gull has brown speckling on its head in winter.

Ring-billed Gull

A Ring-billed Gull and a dozen cohorts. Photo by Byron Chin

The Ring-billed Gull lives in California during the winter (non-breeding) season and migrates to the northern U.S. and Canada during the summer to breed. It is just slightly smaller than the California Gull and has a medium-gray back, black primaries, bright yellow legs, and a red orbital ring. It also has bright yellow irises, giving the Ring-billed Gull a very “beady-eyed” appearance. Its bill is yellow with a thick black ring around it, and there is no red whatsoever. In winter, when this gull is in California, it has the brown speckling on its head. Like the California Gull, the Ring-billed Gull is found on the coast, as well as farther inland and in parking lots.

Heermann’s Gull

Heermann’s Gull takes flight in Monterey, CA. Photo by Byron Chin

The Heermann’s Gull is unlike any other gull you’ll find in California. It winters in the state but migrates to Isla Rasa, a small island in the Sea of Cortez near Baja, California, every summer to breed. In breeding plumage, the Heermann’s Gull’s back is dark gray, the remainder of its body is light gray, its primaries are black, and its head is pure white. It has black legs, a red orbital ring, and a red bill with a black tip. In the winter, when this gull returns from breeding, its head is heavily speckled with gray. Heermann’s Gulls are known to employ a feeding strategy called kleptoparasitism, which means they steal food from other birds, most commonly the Brown Pelican. Sometimes they are seen landing on a pelican’s head and reaching right into its pouch to steal fish! The Heermann’s Gull is, unfortunately, quite susceptible to climate change. Because it nests almost exclusively on a small island in the Pacific Ocean, events such as El Niño and “the Blob” (an unusually large mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean) can reduce the supply of food and influence breeding success. In fact, the Heermann’s Gull has had near total breeding failure for the past two years. Conservation efforts and swift action to slow climate change are critical to preserving this gorgeous species.

Share Your Gull Photos

Do you have a good picture of a gull, tern, jaeger, or a skimmer to share? Submit your photos to gulls@bird-rescue.org, including your name, the species and where the photo was taken, and you may see your photo soon on our social media.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more beautiful photos of gulls, terns, jaegers, and skimmers!

 

March 14, 2017

Intern’s Data Crunching Creates Better Understanding Of Blue-Banded Pelicans

Brown Pelican M43 sports a large, easy-to-read blue band. This bird originally came into care at Bird Rescue with a sea lion bite wound to the chest. Photo: Michael Bolte

Connor Mathews was a junior majoring in Wildlife Conservation and Ecology at the University of Nevada, Reno, when he started his internship, sponsored by the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation (HCBF), at Bird Rescue. He had already volunteered with Bird Rescue, so he was very familiar with the clinic and the birds we care for. Eager to help us with one of our ongoing, large-scale efforts, Connor chose to gather data for our Blue-Banded Pelican project (learn more), the purpose of which is to garner post-release survival and activity information on pelicans we’ve rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Connor combed through old records from over 1,200 Brown Pelicans that had been released over a seven-year period (2009–2015) and collected data on the type, location, and severity of the injuries that had brought them into our care. He also collected other significant information, such as whether the pelican had suffered from fishing hook/line-related injuries or conditions such as anemia and emaciation.

HCBF intern Connor Mathews presenting his research findings to IBR staff and volunteers and San Pedro and Wilmington community members.

The core part of the Blue-Banded Pelican project is that the pelicans we release are outfitted with a large and easy-to-read blue leg band, and the public is asked to report sightings of these banded birds through our website. Given that there were hundreds of reported sightings, Connor had his work cut out for him in trying to match each bird’s patient record with the corresponding blue-banded Brown Pelican sighting and re-sighting information. After days of data analysis, Connor arrived at many important results, but the most interesting one was the sheer number of banded birds that have been encountered and reported. We were able to follow up on many of the pelicans we had cared for, rehabilitated, and released, which allowed us to see how well many of them were doing back in the wild (check out a success story here).

Band Return Conclusions

• Pelicans that are in care for smaller amounts of time tend to survive longer after release

• Contaminated pelicans also tend to survive longer after release than pelicans with other types of major injuries

• Our Brown Pelicans that get released have the potential to travel very far distances

• However, further research needs to be done to see if our pelicans are mating in the wild

Take a look at some of Connor’s statistics:

Over 1,200 Brown Pelicans have been blue-banded, with the highest number in 2012. These numbers largely reflect the number of pelicans received for care.

Nearly one-half of all blue-banded Pelicans we released have been sighted at least once in the wild!

Does this kind of research sound interesting? If you or someone you know might like to participate in a similar project, check out the HCBF Internship Program. It’s a rewarding and unique way to boost your resume or earn college credit while learning about aquatic birds and the scientific research process. Email Jo at internships@bird-rescue.org with any questions!

About the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation

The HCBF offers community grants to organizations in San Pedro and Wilmington, California, to help mitigate the impact of local ports on these two communities. Our grant funds HCBF interns so they can learn about the effects of oil on wildlife, get hands-on experience in rehabilitating aquatic birds, and conduct research to help Bird Rescue better care for the hundreds of patients we see every year.

 

March 7, 2017

Patient of the Week: Black-legged Kittiwake

March is Gull Month at Bird Rescue! This relative of the gull family is a Black-legged Kittiwake, and he is our patient of the week. Normally found in far northern climate regions – especially in Alaska, there have been numerous sightings this season of these gull relatives along the Pacific Coast.

The bird in this photo was found on a Half Moon Bay beach, unable to stand. The kittiwake was brought to our good friends at Peninsula Humane Society where he was given pain medication, anti-inflammatories, and supportive care.

The bird was able to stand by the time he was transferred to our San Francisco Bay Center, but was still limping on its left leg. Spending time floating in a pool allowed him to take weight off the injured leg but still to get exercise. He was successfully released on March 6, 2017 at Fort Baker in Sausalito, CA.

Kittiwakes breed in large cliff colonies and are known for the very distinctive and shrill “kittee-wa-aaake, kitte-wa-aaake” call. Learn more about this beautiful species on Cornell’s All About Birds site.