Crow Feather Imping

By Alyssa Schlange, Volunteer and Outreach Manager

Crow 1476 after release. Photo by Alyssa Schlange

His tail after having broken feathers replaced. Photo by Alyssa Schlange

The donor feather is inserted into the shaft of the original feather.
Photo by Alyssa Schlange

American Crow number 1476, came to us on May 13th of this year as an orphan with terrible feather quality, suggesting malnutrition due to abandonment. After three weeks of consistent care and steady weight gain the crow was still not able to fly. Dr. Duane Tom, Director of Animal Care, ascertained that the crow would need the full set of wing primary feathers to be replaced, or imped, and possibly full tail primary feathers as well.

Imping is when we take feathers from a deceased patient with good feather quality and insert them into the feather shafts of the living patient under anesthesia. We remove the patient’s bad or broken feathers and glue the new feathers in, which improves the bird’s flight quality. It allows the birds to maintain muscle tone and flight ability while recovering, better preparing them for release when other injuries are healed. Imping is a life-saving but complex procedure, as the donor feather must match the recipient in age, size, and sex. The feathers are carefully inserted at particular angles so that it mimics the degrees of the original feathers that allow the birds to soar.

On June 5th Dr. Tom and his team of preceptors (fourth year veterinary students) imped the crow’s wings in a procedure that took over 2 hours. While 1476’s flight did improve, he was unable to fly directly to the highest perch so it was decided that we also needed to imp the tail feathers so that he could get more lift in his flight. On July 11th, we imped the remaining tail feathers.

After a few days in the enclosure he was okayed to be released. On July 14th, after being in care for 61 days, he re-entered the wild with 14 other juvenile orphaned crows.

West Nile Virus in CWC’s American Patients

Photo by Alyssa Schlange

By Melissa Hartman, Administrative Assistant

Of all the American Crow patients we see, 15% carry the disease.

In 2016, California Wildlife Center admitted 238 local American crows for a variety of reasons—chicks apparently abandoned by their parents, fledglings fallen out of a nest too high to allow them to be replaced, adults suffering from broken limbs and open wounds. But more than 40 of these birds came into our Center with troubling symptoms including a lack of balance both at rest and while mobile, weakness, lethargy, even seizures. West Nile Virus—WNV—is listed as the cause of death on 37 of these medical records.

WNV has hit American Crows particularly hard. In the summer of 1999, the disease first appeared in New York City, where a dead crow at the Bronx Zoo foreshadowed what was soon to come. Within four months, tens of thousands of crows perished over the tri-state area. Tests conducted indicated that for this sleek, intelligent bird, the disease was 100-percent fatal. Many other species, from jays to sparrows to finches, also proved susceptible. Within five years, WNV had spread to the Bay Area leaving millions of birds dead in its wake.

Here at CWC we see a significant population presenting with the telling neurological signs of WNV: limb weakness, head twitching, and paralysis. Our treatment is supportive care.  We use anti-inflammatory medications and maintain their nutritional requirements. Mild cases may recover but sadly severe cases seldom do. Those that recover reportedly are immune to future infections by the virus.

WNV At-A-Glance

  • West Nile Virus can be fatal to humans; less than 1% of those infected
  • However, 80% of infected people will not show any symptoms
  • Flu-like symptoms mainly transmitted through mosquito bites, not through other animals
  • Primarily affects birds, but also bats, horses, cats, dogs, chipmunks, skunks, squirrels, rabbits
  • Vaccines are available for horses but not for people


Standing water is the culprit. Reduce the number of mosquitoes around your home by emptying water from gardening containers, buckets, gutters, pool covers, pet water dishes and birdbaths. Monitor sprinkler runoff as well. The most effective way to AVOID WNV is to prevent mosquito bites:

  • Use insect repellents
  • Wear long sleeves and pants from dusk through dawn
  • Install or repair screens

You can help us reduce the number of American Crow admissions by clearing standing water. Make sure in the coming months when mosquito activity is high, you stay safe in the outdoors and have fun!

Garbage Impacts All Kinds of Animals

By Heather Patrice Brown, Development Coordinator

Photo By Jaana Shellock
This poor skunk had a plastic cup in his head that CWC staff was able to remove.

In April, California Wildlife Center was surprised to receive a skunk with a plastic cup stuck over his head.  Volunteer Jaana Shellock first noticed the skunk and with guidance from CWC staff, was able to capture it.  CWC supporter Rick Gunderson was kind enough to drive it to CWC for treatment.  Dr. Duane Tom, California Wildlife Center’s Director of Animal Care, restrained the skunk and cut the cup off his head.  Luckily, the cup had not caused any additional injuries, and the skunk was able to be released to where it had been found that same day.

This skunk was very lucky someone noticed him and was able to bring him to CWC for help.  Unfortunately, CWC staff routinely sees wildlife that have been injured or impacted by garbage.  While most of these animals are tend to be marine mammals, land animals are affected too.  Animals investigate food trash and get entangled in or ingest the paper or plastic.  It is important to be conscientious about how garbage is disposed of and make sure trash cans are securely closed so that we can peacefully coexist with our wild neighbors.


Snowshoes in the Summer

California Wildlife Center recently rescued a Northern Mockingbird whose feet were knuckling, meaning she was unable to open her feet to stand or perch.  This was causingbefore and after snowshoes the bird to have to stand on the tops of her toes which were curled under and causing her additional injury.

CWC veterinary staff created “snowshoes” for the mockingbird to retrain her feet to open and allow the injuries to her toes to heal.  The treatment was successful and the bird is now snowshoe-free and on the road to full recovery!

Fur Seals of Isla Guadalupe

By Staff Veterinarian, Dr. Lorraine Barbosa

This March, I had the amazing privilege of traveling to Isla Guadalupe, a small island off the coast of Baja Mexico, and the primary place in the world where the ESA-listed Guadalupe fur seal breeds. I traveled with a team of scientists from the Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas (CICIMAR-IPN), Sonoma State University, and The Marine Mammal Center, whose research topics included general health assessments, satellite tagging, investigation of environmental and handling stressors, and my project- anesthesia parameters.

Fur Seal Pup by Lorraine Barbosa

Guadalupe fur seals are on the Endangered Species Act list and considered threatened. Photo by Lorraine Barbosa

We traveled first by car to Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, then by 22hr boat ride to the small volcanic island located 250mi into the vast desolation of the Pacific Ocean. Each morning we made a short trek to the fur seal rookery, a long rocky outcropping where waves whipped against the shores and tides ruled our daily routine. There, we were surrounded by the wailing cries of adult females arriving to the rookery from foraging trips, calling back and forth to their bleating pups until they reunited. The young pups whose mothers were away played and jughandled carefree in the tidepools, while the older pups, who for the most part were plump and healthy, sunned themselves on the rocks before heading off into the ocean on their own adventures.

We rotated between catching pups and adult females, overall anesthetizing 15 seals during our stay. Catching the pups was relatively simple: sneak up and grab them with a net while they slept. Catching the adult females took a bit more finesse. They were much more alert and skittish. One had to spend time sneaking up on them, taking small crouched steps forward each time they closed their eyes for just a moment, and pretending to be disinterested in them each time they opened their eyes to reassess our proximity. Once close enough, one had to quickly net the 55kg of unruly muscle and retain her until the others arrived to help. A face mask was then applied, and Isoflurane gas anesthesia was delivered until the seal slipped into unconsciousness. Once asleep, each researcher set out collecting samples for their various research projects. Meanwhile, I monitored heart rate, respiratory rate, and other vital parameters, ensuring the animal was maintained at a proper level of anesthesia. In the evenings we would assemble in our makeshift living room laboratory, all working together to process the day’s samples, until the electricity would go out at 10pm. The anesthesias progressed smoothly and quickly, and before we knew it, so had our time on the island. As we departed on our final day, the rookery again becoming engulfed by the sounds of the thrashing waves and the howling cries of the fur seals, I knew how lucky I was to have had such an incredible experience, and that I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
All activities were conducted under permits (DGVS/00050/16) issued to Dr. Fernando Elorriaga Verplancken (CICIMAR-IPN) by the Mexico Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT) and Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP)-Reserva de la Biósfera Isla Guadalupe.


Seal Survives Shark Strike

Northern Elephant Seal Receives Care

Elephant Seal After Rehab by Jeff Hall

After nearly two months of rehabilitation, this Northern elephant seal is ready for release! The injury to the chin caused by a cookiecutter shark has caused permanent scarring to the animal’s chin, but healing progressed well and he should have no lingering effects from the injury. Photo by Jeff Hall

By Marine Program Manager, Jeff Hal

Cookiecutter sharks sound like they’d be something really cute.  I draw images in my head of a rotund little shark, slowly marauding through the ocean with googly eyes, looking for cookie prey.  The reality is something not as lovable.  Cookiecutter sharks have round mouths ringed with teeth.  They will prey upon nearly any animal in the sea by latching onto skin of the animal and spinning, using their sharp teeth to remove a round piece of flesh.  The wound looks like it was made by a cookie cutter, hence the shark’s uniquely cute-sounding name.

1 Elephant Seal Before by Lorraine Barbosa

This Northern elephant seal was rescued by CWC’s Marine Department at La Costa Beach in Malibu with severe injuries to his chin and right side. Photo by Lorraine Barbosa

In April of this year, CWC’s Marine Department rescued an underweight Northern elephant seal pup from La Costa Beach in Malibu that was suffering from two cookiecutter shark wounds.  One was on the animal’s right side; the other was under his chin.  Both were significant, but the chin wound posed the greatest danger as jaw bone was exposed.

Marine Department staff and veterinarians worked daily to ensure the wound was kept clean, not an easy task for an animal that lies on his belly.  With constant cleaning (such as extra scrubbing of the enclosure flooring and letting the seal rest his head on clean towels), a course of antibiotics, numerous surgeries to debride the wound, and a few hundred pounds of fish, this Northern elephant seal was prepared to be returned to the wild!  On June 8, a team of CWC staff and volunteers helped carry his 154 pounds of blubber to the beach for release at Leo Carillo State Beach in Malibu!  Returning animals to the wild is always the most rewarding part of working and volunteering at CWC.

Saving an animal with cookiecutter shark wounds is just one of many examples of the hundreds of animals CWC’s Marine Department responds to each year.  To put it in perspective, in 2015, CWC responded to 568 reports of marine mammals stranded on the beach and rescued a total of 325 animals.  Of the 325 animals rescued, 138 were brought to CWC for rehabilitative care.  If a rescued animal is not taken to CWC’s marine mammal rehabilitation facility it is brought to other regional facilities such as the Marine Mammal Care Center at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro.

Luckily for marine mammals in the area, 2016 has been a somewhat slower season, but the Marine Department has still been responding to high numbers of stranded marine mammals.  In the first six months of 2016, CWC has responded to 331 reports of stranded marine mammals and rescued 208 of those animals.  Of the 208 rescued animals, 52 were brought to CWC for rehabilitative care.  Typically, CWC’s Marine Department sees an increase in rescues during the summer months because of increased human activity at the beaches.  There is also an increase in rescues of California sea lion pups which are born between May and July.  If something happens to a pup’s mother, or if the animal is weaned too early, they will need an organization like California Wildlife Center to help them along.

Whether it is caring for a California sea lion that was entangled in fish netting or rehabilitating a Northern elephant seal with textbook  cookiecutter shark wounds, CWC’s Marine Dept. staff and volunteers are doing our part to return sick and injured wildlife back to nature!