WildCare August 2010 eNews
Table of Contents
Please Don’t Feed the Ducks
Children love animals. For many kids, their first experience with animals that are not their pets are the ducks in the local pond. Family outings often include a lesson in sharing, as parents and kids toss the hungry birds bread and picnic scraps, and urge them to come closer. Teaching young people lessons of generosity and appreciation for wildlife sounds like a great day out with the kids, but it’s not great for the ducks and other pond residents. This type of feeding is the beginning of a host of problems that WildCare sees much too frequently.
WildCare doesn’t recommend feeding any wildlife, and the waterfowl that are brought to our wildlife hospital for help from places like the Civic Center Lagoon in San Rafael and Stow Lake in San Francisco are prime examples of the damage feeding wildlife can cause. These birds suffer from heavier parasite loads and bacterial infections than do waterfowl from other areas. They have more nutritional problems that result in poor feather condition and impaired waterproofing, and more incidents of injury caused by inter-species aggression.
Waterfowl require a variety of natural foods, including grass, seaweeds and aquatic plants, seeds and grains, insects, small fish and amphibians, worms and other invertebrates. These foods are naturally available in the correct proportion of carbohydrates and proteins, and provide the vitamins, calcium and other minerals that comprise optimal balanced nutrition for waterfowl. When people feed wildlife their leftover foods or even specially-purchased foods, like grain, this balance is destroyed. High proportions of sugars and fats are introduced into the birds' diets in the breads, and too much protein in the grains.
Why Bread is Bad for Ducks
A few pieces of bread aren't lethal, but when you consider how many people feed their leftover bread to waterfowl, the picture changes. While one family may only feed the ducks a few crusts now and then, there are many other people who also throw the birds their bread. This leads to a diet based almost solely on bread products.
Breads offer carbohydrates, but little other nutritional value for waterfowl and other birds. In fact, bread is the equivalent of junk food for them, and too much bread can lead to malnutrition as well as many other problems. Because everyone likes a free lunch, ducks will naturally seek an easy food source. If their parents are eating bread, ducklings will not learn to forage for natural foods as easily. With feeding, all of these animals become dependent on people.
When birds become accustomed to handouts, they lose their natural fear of humans, and may become aggressive. This loss of fear also results in accidents on busy roads and parking lots near where the habituated birds congregate. There is also some evidence that regular handouts can interrupt the birds’ natural migration instincts because they come to rely on human food as a readily available food source. This is becoming apparent in species like Canada Geese. In the past, the migration of Canada Geese was practically synonymous with spring and fall; now, in hospitable environments that people have created, such as parks and golf courses, many never migrate, and remain year round.
Unnatural food sources cause ducks and other waterfowl to lay more eggs. The result is overpopulation and all the problems that accompany it. Close contact and overcrowding increases the likelihood of territorial aggression. It also causes unsanitary conditions that create the perfect environment for pathogens like botulism and salmonella. Moldy bread can cause aspergillosis, a fatal lung infection that can decimate entire duck and waterfowl flocks.
The bread that sinks to the water's bottom rots, and distributes yeasts and sugars that can lead to greater algal growth which can clog natural waterways. This concentrates pollution, and can eventually eradicate fish and other life in the vicinity. Uneaten bread left on the ground is an easy meal for rats, mice and insects that can harbor additional diseases. For rodent problems, park managers often take the “easy” way out and put out poison to kill the rats. This pushes the poisoning farther up the food chain when hawks, owls and other carnivores discover an “easy meal” of dying rodents.
WildCare recommends learning to enjoy watching wild birds foraging for their natural diets, rather than trying to share yours.
Really, there is just no such thing as a free lunch.
Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Update
The number of dead birds collected on the Gulf Coast has more than doubled in the past month as oil from BP’s broken deepwater well continues to wash up on islands and beaches rich in bird life. Officials say 2,599 dead birds had been collected on the Gulf Coast as of Thursday, July 22.
A number of WildCare volunteers and staff have been trained to assist in oil spills,and several have taken three-week shifts, in rotation, to assist with the wildlife clean-up in Louisiana.
Arlene Davis and M.L. Oxford were the first WildCare volunteers to travel to Louisiana in July. As they returned to the Bay Area, Pamela Ball and Stephany Helbig departed for Louisiana to take their places. Over the next months, more volunteers from WildCare will rotate in to help.
In a press conference held at WildCare on July 13, Arlene Davis provided a first-hand account to several news teams. “I got one day off while I was there, otherwise it was 7am to 7pm each day, sometimes later,” she said. “During the time I was there about 650 birds passed through.” Arlene works a regular, full-time job as an engineer at Motorola, and donates her time to help wildlife on a regular volunteer shift in WildCare's wildlife hospital. She provided the photos you see here. We are grateful to all our volunteers for offering their skills and willingness to help as the Gulf catastrophe continues to unfold.
Stephany Helbig wrote on July 22
"Things are going well for the most part here. I’m on day five now, and it’s gone quickly! I’m pre-washing oiled birds and then am in the dry room right afterward, I am gavage-feeding and hydrating.
"It’s been thunderstorming here and we’ve had tornado warnings. They’re moving the center to a place out of the severe hurricane danger zone at the end of this week, because here we are right where Hurricane Katrina hit hardest.
"I’m getting to see a lot of birds I’ve never seen before, such as spoonbills, Laughing Gulls, terns and Tri-colored Herons. I much prefer the small size of the Laughing Gulls to the giant Western Gulls at home – less painful when fingers are near the beak region.
"There are a lot of really nice and cool people here -- vet students, vets, and people from rehabilitation centers all over. I’m getting a lot of valuable triage experience and I want to thank you all again for the opportunity to come here to help out. Until next time, have a busy and productive week!
Pamela Ball wrote on July 30
"At the Fort Jackson facility in Louisiana, most of the oiled wildlife we were receiving were Brown Pelicans, the Louisiana state bird, and Laughing Gulls, mostly juveniles with some adults. Other birds were Royal, Common, Forster and Caspian Terns, Tri-Colored and Black-crowned Night Herons, Snowy Egrets and Herring Gulls. Unusual birds that we do not get to see much in California were Northern Gannets, Magnificent Frigate Birds, Roseate Spoonbills, American Oystercatchers, King and Clapper Rails and Black Skimmers.
"The spoonbills, rails and oystercatchers were a challenge to feed because they mostly wade through the marshy terrain or other shallow waters looking for choice morsels of aquatic life like small fish and crustaceans. These birds had already had a very stressful experience, first getting covered in oil, then being picked up by human "monsters," prodded and poked and having hydration tubes put down their throats. Now they were being offered dead fish! As we needed to get the birds to feed themselves, one very creative person suggested a specialized habitat. A container was lined with artificial grass and oyster shells. Duck weed, collected from the pond by the Fort, was added, and then volunteers went fishing in the nearby Mississippi river for live shrimp, minnows and snails.
"The habitats were placed in the enclosures, and as the movement piqued the birds’ curiosity these depressed and nearly lifeless birds slowly reenergized. They started eating and soon became strong enough to go through the washing process that would lead to their eventual release.
"Cleaning and treating these birds is sad, hard, dirty work, but this creativity, innovation and teamwork is what makes rehabilitation of oiled wildlife possible. Seeing the cleaned animals recover and return to their interrupted lives makes it worthwhile and rewarding."
Louisiana’s Wetlands and Barrier Islands
Thankfully, the oil spill has been capped, but, as stated in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology blog, Round Robin, “While the immediate danger may soon subside, the work to trace chronic impacts to bird populations is only beginning. In the long run, those impacts can take more of a toll than the headline-grabbing oil slicks.”
Louisiana is home to about 40 percent of the nation’s wetlands — and the bulk of coastal wetland loss occurs in the state. Barrier islands in Louisiana are old shorelines of abandoned, eroding deltas of the Mississippi River. The current major barrier islands include the Chandeleur Island chain, Grand Isle and Grand Terre, Timbalier Islands, and Isle Dernieres. According to the Conservation Habitats and Species Assessment report done by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, natural processes have been altered by the levees that channel the Mississippi River, and we can expect no new barrier islands to form. We must care for what we have.
|Back to Top
How Pesticides Affect Wildlife
Pesticides kill wild animals, but beyond the immediate deaths they cause, these poisons have a disastrous lasting effect through the food chain. Low levels of toxic substances that enter the ecosystem from homes and gardens can cause a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem, causing damage that may not be evident for decades to come.
Much of the scientific work on “approved” insecticides has been done in laboratories – artificial settings that tend to look at how high a concentration of a pesticide a species can handle before 50 percent-- half-- of the animals die. But as ecotoxicologist Jessica Hua points out in a recent issue of The Wildlife Professional magazine, “in nature, it’s pretty rare that you find an organism existing on its own.” Hua is part of a new scientific discipline called ecotoxicology that looks at the long-term effects of multiple insecticides and the role they may play in population declines of species like amphibians, birds and bats.
We’ve already seen this dramatic disaster play out in the effects DDT has on birds. There is no reason to think that other concentrated toxins created by our “better living through chemistry” labs aren’t already causing local and global wildlife disasters that are not yet evident. Ecotoxicologists are the key players in investigating the toll that toxic chemicals take on wildlife, and ultimately, ourselves.
the toll of toxics
While the fate of a certain number of hawks or foxes poisoned by rodenticides may not seem monumental, when taken as part of the bigger picture, it makes the role of toxins in the environment clearer. Consider that lead and other toxic metals contaminated more than 80 sites across the United States as a result of one copper-mining conglomerate's operations. From these sites, Osprey were poisoned by ingesting prey that was contaminated with metal residue, and thousands of waterbirds died from ingesting heavy metals in sediments and plant materials. Likewise, the Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe will cause birds to ingest petrochemicals when they preen; sea turtles will consume food tainted by petroleum, and delicate wetland habitats and fisheries will be poisoned.
This also has ramifications for the rest of us. It means that the chemicals we use in those cities and suburbs may have as much or more impact on the ecosystem than we previously realized. While one person using herbicides and pesticides doesn’t seem significant, when multiplied by the millions of people discharging these chemical toxins, it becomes a huge issue.
amphibians in decline
It’s difficult to prove that contaminants such as agricultural insecticides and pesticides have caused an animal population to decline or disappear, but scientists are looking at the role these contaminants play. Contaminants do not typically trigger large die-offs of amphibians, but they adversely affect their populations in subtle ways. For example, they have been shown to reduce tadpole growth rates, slow tadpole response time or swimming ability, interfere with sexual development, and impair reproduction and thyroid function, which may cause tadpoles to grow, but not to undergo metamorphosis. They impair immune functions, making amphibians more vulnerable to disease. Without killing the adults, these toxins inhibit amphibian population sustainability. What do they do to other species?
think globally, act locally
While as individuals we have little control over huge disasters caused by oil spills or mining operations, we can control our own actions. WildCare is working to make this happen in the one area we consistently see in our wildlife hospital– rodenticides (rat poisons). We see the results rodenticides have on the food chain every time we admit another poisoned hawk, skunk or fox.
Hawks are poisoned when they eat dying rodents that have consumed rodenticides (rat poisons). Dogs, cats, skunks and raccoons are poisoned when they ingest slug and snail baits containing metaldehyde. Mallards and other waterbirds are poisoned by ingesting lead from spent lead bullets that fall to the bottom of the marshes and ponds in which they feed. Carrion-eaters like Turkey Vultures and California Condors are poisoned when they ingest lead from bullets in the remains of carcasses left by hunters. Songbirds are poisoned by organophosphates when they eat poisoned insects or land on something sprayed with garden insecticides that contain malathion, diazinon and a host of other toxic chemicals.
Please help us end rodenticide and pesticide poisoning by making informed decisions about all the household chemicals you use, and by your financial support for WildCare.
|Back to Top
39th Sustainable Earth Forum begins August 31
The Environmental Forum of Marin’s (EFM) Sustainable Earth Forum is an 18-week educational opportunity for adults, focusing on sustainability, ecology, human impacts on the environment, resource management, and citizen-based community action.
Rooted in the natural world and the local community, the Forum inspires awe of nature, imparts deep understanding of today’s environmental challenges, and teaches the skills necessary to influence positive change. For 38 years the Forum has produced environmental leaders who have founded organizations, influenced public policy and created positive change in their homes, communities and businesses.
The program has four components:
Participants learn from key professionals, government officials and dedicated citizens working actively for environmental organizations.
The goal of the Earth Forum is to provide knowledge to individuals who are, or who would like to be, involved in making decisions affecting their community.
The underlying philosophy of EFM is that any decision, whether governmental, educational or personal, is a better decision when made by an informed individual.
Sustainable Earth Forum is offered once a year.
| Back to Top
The aggressive wasps known as Yellow Jackets are carnivorous, and can be menacing creatures when it comes to a showdown over the picnic table. They are often mistaken for bees, and sometimes are even called “meat bees,” but wasps are more closely related to ants than to bees. In the late summer and fall, their populations increase to full colony production levels.
These social hunting wasps (Vespula pennsylvanica) are responsible for most stinging incidents. Their mouthparts are well-developed with a proboscis for sucking nectar, fruit and other juices, and strong jaws called mandibles for capturing and chewing insects. Barbecued meat with sweet sauce is a prize! Unfortunately for us, these insects are just as likely to try to saw off a piece of your flesh as they are to sting you. If they do sting, they don’t leave a stinger, so they can sting repeatedly.
The queen begins a paper nest from masticated wood pulp, and conceals it in an abandoned underground nest, in trees, shrubs, or in protected places such as inside human-made structures. Here she lays her eggs to produce the workers that will enlarge the colony.
From spring to mid-summer nests are in growth phase, and the larvae require large amounts of protein, all supplied by the workers. They seek other insects, and scavenge protein-rich foods. By late summer the colony grows more slowly, and workers seek sugar to maintain the queen and the other workers.
controlling yellow jackets
Yellow Jackets seldom sting when they are foraging, unless they are threatened or squashed between clothing and skin. They are likely to attack when their nests are disturbed by a direct blow or by vibrations, so control should involve an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach using non-toxic products, avoidance, prevention and care.
Using pesticides to control Yellow Jackets is not recommended. Not only are pesticides harmful to the environment, but to be effective, the entire Yellow Jacket colony, and sometimes multiple colonies, must be located and destroyed completely. Poisons can rarely reach an entire nest.
Traps can reduce the number of workers considerably if used appropriately. They can be purchased at a number of places, or made at home using plastic soft drink bottles. Placement and number of traps is key to success. There are even clever and attractive covers.
For more information about Yellow Jackets visit:
|Back to Top
Remembering the Station Fire
Fire season is upon us again. This personal account of the aftermath of the Station Fire in Los Angeles County is a sobering reflection on what can occur. At 160,557 acres, the Station Fire was the 10th largest in modern California history, and the largest wildfire in the modern history of Los Angeles County. But don’t let the fact that it didn't happen in your area lull you into a false sense of complacency. This fire could happen anywhere in California.
MaryEllen Schoeman is a Southern California wildlife rehabilitator. She wrote to the California Council for Wildlife Rehabilitators that she had found a Gopher Snake with what she thought was an injury.
MaryEllen lives at the edge of where the Station Fire occurred last year. She wondered if this snake could be a survivor of that catastrophe. When asked about what wildlife injuries she saw as a result of the fire, this is what she wrote:
MaryEllen Schoeman’s Observations
“To give you an idea of what it was like, here’s a link to a video that was shot with a game camera lodged under a rock in a nearby canyon.
“When I went in that first time, there were bodies everywhere. Some of them were burned so completely there were just ashes and bones. From the ones I could identify, I saw squirrels, skunks, opossums, raccoons, some canids (too burned – I couldn’t tell if they were foxes, small coyotes, or small domestic dogs that had been running loose), even birds. I tried to hike through to where the streams are, thinking maybe some animals might have gone there and denned up in the rocks, but I was too upset and had to leave.
“A few days later I went in again, because I had seen some aerial photos that indicated there were some unburned canyons in the midst of the fire area. I didn’t see any bodies in those places, but the green look of the photos was deceiving – the tree leaves in the canopy were still green, but everything underneath them was dead and scorched. I think the fire itself skipped over the top of the canyons where the trees were, but the heat and the gasses still swept through the canyon and killed all the plants. Those were areas where the streams run, though, so I have hope that maybe there were some animals that went to ground there and survived.
“The fire burned basically up to my backyard – they stopped it on the ridgeline behind my house. For the next several days, we saw lots of dehydrated, sooty deer, and while, as a wildlife rehabilitator, I discourage feeding wildlife, this was a special case so I put out tubs of water and food for them. Sometimes I would see about a dozen or more deer gathered around the water tubs. After about a week, they dispersed down into the unburned canyon below us, where there is a year-round river and lots to eat.
“A neighbor also spotted a bear, limping a bit, with a bare patch on his side, presumably a burn. We called the California Department of Fish & Game, but they told us there was nothing they, or we, could do. But the bear was seen pretty regularly for a while there and he eventually stopped limping and just had the bald patch, so I hope he survived. Our neighborhood bears reappeared pretty quickly after the fires, did more garbage scavenging than usual for a while, and were joined after a bit by another bear – maybe the injured one? -– for a little while, then he left the area. For a while we also seemed to have more than one mountain lion, but I couldn’t verify if that was true or if the one that lives around here was just more active than usual.
“We all had an influx of rats in the months following the fires. I don’t know if they were drawn to the area because of all the carrion, or if they had somehow escaped and were moving into yards because there was nowhere else to go.
“I didn’t see a any ground squirrels in the area (there used to be a huge colony behind my house) until about a month ago. Tree squirrel populations seem to be about the same, and the raccoon population as well. We never saw a lot of skunks or opossums to begin with – there used to be so much natural habitat around here that they really didn’t come into yards very often.
“I didn’t hear any coyote or fox calling for months after, but I got a motion capture game camera in December and started putting it out in various places around, and have got images of coyote, fox, and bobcat, so those animals either survived or their place in the ecosystem has been filled by animals moving in.
“There have been more rattlesnakes than usual this summer on my side of the canyon, but those numbers fluctuate a lot from year to year anyway.
“Overall I have been very happily surprised by how quickly the ecosystem is recovering. I have hiked back in there several times (the forest is technically closed, but I think that was due mostly to mountain bikers, who were doing a lot of damage by riding their bikes off-trail and crushing new plants that were trying to sprout), and while of course the bigger trees are still dead, the smaller plants, flowers, grasses, cactus, and scrub are all doing great. You can’t really even see the burned ground anymore. I dug down into the dirt to see what it looked like-- it seemed fine. There were bugs and worms and all the stuff you would expect to see.
“I thought I would see a lot more injured animals, but after talking to the firefighters, I’m not so surprised anymore. I don’t think very many could get out in this area, just due to how fast the fire moved here, and I think a lot of the little guys tried to go to ground and died there. It might be different at other fire areas, though, it covered such a huge area and in some places probably burned differently.”
Back to the Gopher Snake
MaryEllen was able to examine the snake more closely that night, when it was less active. She reported the reptile's body felt very strange, but not squishy, wet or swollen. It was not a fresh injury at all, but definitely a scar. “It’s heartening to know that something survived the Station Fire,” she continued. “It’s good to see a survivor! The rescuer who brought [the snake] to me will be really happy too; he understands the value of these snakes to our environment and is always glad to see them in his yard. He says he carefully scoots them off the road when he sees them there.”
|Back to Top
Great Gift Ideas for August