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.'”

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