Winter is Coming!

Migrating aquatic birds receive care

By Wildlife Technician Christina Smith

image2Winter is coming. Our baby care unit is slowing down and the baby birds and mammals we’ve cared for this spring through fall are all grown up. Now there’s a new menagerie of patients we’re starting to see in our hospital. California “winters” provide an ideal retreat for migrating aquatic birds. Here are a few of our patients.

Grebes are common winter patients at CWC. They spend their entire lives in the water and have distinctive lobed toes designed for treading water and legs placed at the back of their body to propel them while diving. They sometimes mistake land for water and crash land on pavement. Since they can only take flight from water, they get stuck on land. While in our care, we have to place special “booties” on their feet to protect their sensitive skin from getting abrasions since their feet are designed to only be in water.

Northern Fulmars resemble gulls until you see them close up. Their beaks have distinctive tube noses used for salt excretion. Along with their unique beaks, they have a recognizable smell, similar to petrol, which fills the hospital when we have them in our care. As a defense mechanism, they project an oily substance from their stomach that coats the feathers of avian predators but so far, we’ve been lucky enough to avoid experiencing this first hand.

Brandts and Double Crested Cormorants have slick black feathering and are often mistaken for oiled birds washed ashore. They have long necks and hook tipped beaks. They are frequently seen swimming around piers where they feed on fishermen’s hooked fish. Unfortunately, they often ingest the hooks or are entangled in fishing line, when snagging the easy meal. Surgery is often required to try to remove hooks and repair injuries from the embedded line. They are excellent at catching fish and are currently still used instead of fishing poles in China.

I look forward to winters at CWC because it’s when we get the privilege to work with these special patients we rarely get to see during our busy season. Once we stabilize the birds and perform necessary surgeries, they are transferred to International Bird Rescue for their continued care. Their facility caters specifically to the needs of aquatic birds and their rehabilitation.