The information age and pelicans

Brown Pelican

Strange world we live in. Today I read a blog on about how parents take their kids to see zookeepers feed dead bunnies to tigers at the San Francisco zoo. I wonder what the fascination is – are we so removed from Mother Earth that we can only embrace nature when it’s a form of entertainment? What happened to communing with nature? I, for one, did not embrace the entrance of the Information Age, though I have used some of the advancements from it as tools to further my personal growth. I do not like the Information Age. The wealth of knowledge and opinions that live on the Internet is like having a thousand books at your disposal that you don’t want to read. To me, it’s not exhilarating, it’s overwhelming.Yet, everyday people go online looking for something outside of themselves to make them happy.

One day I went on a hike with my friend Brian to Muir Woods. After lunch we went to Rodeo Beach, someplace I had never been before. It was a gorgeous day, and before we found a spot on the sand we were treated to the site of a Great Blue Heron waltzing its way down the road behind us and in to the marsh.

Then, we enjoyed the simple act of sitting and watching the ocean, occasionally looking up to watch dozens of pelicans enjoying their freedom. To watch such magnificent creatures makes your heart soar…and sore.

Acorn woodpecker, goodbye to possum and squirrel, sad egret

It’s about 10:30 pm on July 6, 2006, and I’m tired. I just got home from the wildlife rescue up in Palo Alto. There seemed to be an unevenness, a disorganization, even a sadness, about the whole evening. We were down two volunteers, and we had a new person, Rochelle, help out for the evening. She works at Bishop up in the San Ramon area. She was great, really on the ball as far as volunteers go.

But about this disharmony – one of the things I’m struggling with is that I’m still learning how to feed the birds, and sometimes I don’t do it well. The little baby birds in the incubators are easy, they mostly open up for food. The mourning doves are really hard, though, and you have to stick the feeding tube almost all the way down them in order to fill their crop. The crop in a bird is the “pre-stomach,” – a pouch that holds the food while it’s being digested. The opening to a bird’s crop is on the right side of its throat. The opening to the lungs is on the left side, so you want to avoid getting food down the left side of the throat. Sometimes if a birds crop is full of seed or Basic Nesting Diet (BND) the food will come back up and you end up with it all over the bird’s face or you. But, usually, you don’t want to feed a bird who hasn’t digested his last feeding. And, sometimes you forget to check the crop before feeding. You have to pay close attention at all times, and it’s a little nerve wracking, these little lives in your hands.

There is some good news this week, though. An Acorn Woodpecker that had been brought in last week (attacked by a scrub jay) is improving. He still looks bad but is growing new feathers and is eating. I tried to feed him some live mealworms using some surgical tweezers but he proceeded to spit them back out at me. Mealworms are creepy. :-p

The crew just seemed a bit out of synch tonight, usually we are a well-oiled machine. It just seemed like it took a lot longer to get everyone fed, cleaned, and re-stocked, and we were still doing dishes at 9:30 pm. Plus, we lost a few tonight. A squirrel came in around 8 pm or so and by 9 pm he had gone where squirrels go when they die. We also lost a baby possum. We all took turns with the stethescope to see whether his heart was still beating, but when I turned him over and he bled from his wound onto my hand we confirmed he had gone, too. Animals that die go in to the dead animal freezer. It’s actually interesting to look inside the freezer to see what is there. I guess it’s kind of like a train wreck – you just can’t look away.

I helped our shift captain feed a snowy egret its fish mash. When I looked in on it later, I noticed it sleeping with its head down, almost between its legs. I saw a different egret sleep the same way when I went walking out at the Palo Alto Baylands on Tuesday, with my friend Margaret. We were admiring all the snowy egrets nesting in the palms above the pond, and we saw a few of the babies that didn’t make it. Margaret wondered if it was West Nile, and then said it’s amazing that all the humans are worried about catching it, but no one really thinks about what the birds go through. We then talked about the article on SFGate that said that 12% of all bird species will be extinct by the year 2100. Margaret said if she was a bird she would want to be extinct, too, the way the world was going.

Though this post is a little sad, I’ll leave with the starfish story that Jeanie, our shift captain, told us.

“Two men were walking along the sea when they came upon what looked like hundreds of starfish washed up on to the beach. One of the men started picking up the starfish, one by one, and throwing them back in to the sea. The other man said ‘what are you doing, you can’t possibly save them all, what difference does it make?’ To which the man replied, ‘I made a difference to a few.'”

My first crow

I hesitate to use the word “my” when it comes to animals. Though many people think dominion means we own or can do what we want with animals, it actually means stewardship, or caring for the creatures of the earth and allowing them to live out their lives. I had a very personal and life affirming experience with this particular crow.

Did you know that animals feel despair? According to Dena Jones, writer for Orion magazine, “Mohandas Gandhi said that a nation’s moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals. Animal behavior scientists have proven unequivocally that animals are not machines but sentient beings that experience feelings of pain, fear, anxiety, and despair.”

I wonder if they ever feel hope.

I realize now that the raven I saw steal a mourning dove’s egg from a nest in my apartment complex was more than likely a crow. Crows, industrious and intelligent, have learned to adjust to the human paving of our greenbelts. They are our thinking janitors, cleaning up our roadkill and making use of the food we waste and throw away. And now, there are more of them than ever, because we have made it more difficult for their natural predators to survive, like certain species of falcons. Not unlike pigeons.

Crows have a rounded tail, whereas a raven has a wedge-shaped tail. The raven call is more of a Brooonnnnkkkkk and the crow is the Caw-Caw-Caw we usually hear.

There wasn’t anything fantastic about this particular rescue. On May 26, 2006, I got in my car and started driving toward the market to get some greens for my own birds (I care for four cockatiels). As I made a left out my apartment building parking lot and started driving along Evelyn toward Fair Oaks I saw a man picking up what I thought was a raven from the middle of the road, but it turned out to be a large crow. I actually grin when I think about it because my former manager at my last company told me ravens were more prolific in the area, but its actually crows.

The crow had been hit by a car. I stopped in the middle of the road, got out of my car, and asked the man if the bird was still alive. He said yes, and I asked him what he was going to do with it. He said…”nothing, I didn’t hit it.” Hmmm. At this point my mission became clear that I need to take the bird to the wildlife rescue. Point is, I didn’t know where it was. I knew my friend Candy volunteered there and it was in Palo Alto, but I hadn’t figured out where it was.

I don’t know when the man who picked up the bird finally left, because I was so focused on the bird. After attempting to borrow a towel from a stranger in a nearby parking lot, I settled on removing my hooded sweatshirt and wrapping the bird in it. If you know me at all you’ll know I’m an extremely modest person. Though I had a tank top on underneath it felt very strange to not be wearing long sleeves.

The bird was laying on its back, legs and talons pulled in, and in shock. I thought it was dead but then it rolled over and cawed at me a little. I talked to it, and then I started to cry. I know, I know…from what I’ve read the best thing I can do is be quiet and remain calm but I was so afraid for the bird and didn’t want it to die.

I picked up the bird in my sweatshirt and took it to my car. As I got in I left my driver’s side door open so I could place the bird with both hands on my passenger seat. Someone honked at me because my door was obstructing the road. Insult to injury.

As I drove up to Palo Alto I cried and laid my hand on the sweatshirt, telling the crow I would do what I could for it. What happened to me next was anyone’s guess, but I just sort of let go. I was still crying, but I realized at that point that I was doing what I could but that the bird might not make it. All I could think of is that I might have given it some hope.

I took the bird to Palo Alto animal services and they had an officer take it over to the Wildlife Rescue. When I called the next day Liz, the Animal Care Coordinator (great person, very smart) told me they were able to stabilize the bird, but that it wasn’t able to stand. However, when I called back a few days later, they told me that they had to euthanize the bird, that its injuries were too great.

They say when one door closes, another opens. Now I’m volunteering with my friend Candy on Thursday nights at the wildlife rescue in Palo Alto.

To read more about Wildlife Rescue in Palo Alto, visit:

Getting the place wired

I think I have finally figured out what my place in the world is. Ever since I was young I’ve had a great sensitivity toward animals, and now like a praying mantis tapping me lightly on the shoulder I feel like I’m being asked to talk about my observations and interactions with wild animals that share the SF Bay Area with me. The seed was probably planted years ago, but it wasn’t until I read “The Hopes of Snakes” by Lisa Couturier and held an injured and dying crow in my hands that I felt compelled to start writing about nature.

To read more abouth Lisa Couturier go to:

So, right now, I’m getting this place wired, which is a surfing term for learning the lay of the land, so to speak. Though I’m a writer by trade my creative writing skills might be a little rusty at first, but stick with me and I’ll try to open your mind to what I see, think, and feel when I observe the nature around me. It probably won’t shock or astound you, but my goal is for those of you who read this blog to become more connected with the souls of critters around us.