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January 7, 2008

Cordelia, CA

Storms take a toll on wildlife

Bird Rescue treating rare and unusual birds after Pacific Coast pounding

frigatebird photo

A wayward Young Magnificent Frigatebird was found at Russian River. It's being treated at IBRRC's Cordelia bird center. (Photo: Marie Travers/IBRRC)

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Last week’s storms have again filled the cages and pools at International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) in Cordelia with hundreds of water birds in need of some R&R, and a very rare visitor – a juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird rescued from a tree in Healdsburg.  

In December, the center treated hundreds of victims of the Cosco Busan spill and the Moss Landing Mystery spill. Just when it looked as if there would be a break, the storms hit.

“In the past few days we have received over 100 birds from Monterey County to Santa Rosa County. Most are birds who got into trouble because of the storms,” said Jay Holcomb, Director of the IBRRC. One of these birds, a Frigatebird not typically seen in northern California, is in very guarded condition. Holcomb said, “Experts from PRBO will make a positive species ID but we believe it is a juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird. We have never treated this species at this center in our 37 year history.”

Local birders are abuzz about the bird, which had apparently been blown into a tall pine tree at the Russian River Bridge over Highway 101, become entangled and unable to free itself. The rescue was perilous for both the local animal control and the bird, who was eventually freed by a local window washer with a 40 foot ladder. Santa Rosa Bird Rescue helped get the bird to IBRRC.  The rehabilitation staff and a UC Davis veterinarian determined the bird was in critical condition with a temperature far below normal and very poor blood values. It is in ICU receiving IV nutrition and antibiotics and resting. “We won’t even photograph it until it is out of critical condition,” said Holcomb.  

The storms also create problems for small ducks like Ruddy ducks, Buffleheads, Goldeneyes, Surf Scoters, and Greater Scaups, whose legs are far back on their bodies. They either can’t walk on land or need a bit of a runway for take-off. During storms, they may land or crash land in puddles and be grounded and vulnerable to predators and cars.  Unlike mallards who can fly from a sitting position, these birds can’t. Sometimes they are injured, typically by cats and dogs, but often they just need to be put back on the water. To be sure, people who find ducks in their yards, or see them in distress in urban areas, should rescue them.  If they can’t get away when approached, they are in trouble and the best thing to do is throw a towel over them and then put them in a dark box, keep them warm, and get them to the closest wildlife rescue center. Never feed ducks bread and don’t further stress them by allowing curious children to look at them.

Other victims of the storms in rehab at IBRRC include Western, Eared and Horned Grebes, Murres and Fulmars. Anyone wishing to donate money, or volunteer to help care for the birds, should call Ann at 707-207-0380 extension 109 or James at extension 100 or visit the IBRRC website at http://www.ibrrc.org/.  The next volunteer orientation is January 19th from 10-noon. To find the rehabilitation professional or center closest to you visit the California Council for Wildlife Rehabilitators website at http://www.ccwr.org/  and click on resources.

A few facts about Frigatebirds:

Frigatebirds are large, dark water birds with long pointed wings and forked-tails and long hooked beaks. Agile fliers favoring tropical oceans, the Magnificent Frigatebird breeds mostly south of the United States, but wanders northward along the coasts during non-breeding season. It spends most of its life flying over the ocean but it rarely if ever lands on the water. It snatches food off the surface of the ocean but is also well known for stealing food from other birds. Frigatebirds are the only seabirds where the male and female look strikingly different. Males are entirely black with red throat pouch that they inflate to attract females. Females are larger; black with large white patch across the chest. Juveniles look similar to adult females, but their head is entirely white, blending with a white chest. The feet and legs are small compared to the size of their body.

Populations appear to be declining, mainly due to human destruction of habitat for housing and resorts, and disturbance in colonies. Introduced predators on islands and over-fishing are also potential problems.

IBRRC has specialized in the rehabilitation of waterfowl and aquatic birds since 1971 and manages two wildlife rehabilitation centers in California as part of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. The phone number for IBRRC in Northern California is 707-207-0380.  In southern California the number is 310-514-2573. More information and directions to the centers can be found at http://www.ibrrc.org/. Donations to help pay for the cost of caring for the birds may be sent to IBRRC, 4369 Cordelia Road, Cordelia, CA  94534 or on through the donation page on the website.

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