What to do if:
You find an
injured bird on the North Coast of Oregon
Common causes of sick
or injured birds - The most common problems we see here on the coast are
hypothermia, starvation and poisoning. We get a lot of storms during the
winter. Many birds spend their winter on the ocean waters off of our
coast. Weak or juvenile birds can get caught in the surf and tumbled
in the churned up, sandy waters. When they are cast ashore, their
protective feathers are wet and full of sand. They are cold to the
core and this condition is called hypothermia. Even if these birds are
not too bad off, many sea birds are simply not equipped to take off from
land. These birds need help and often respond well to it.
There are a number of causes for starvation.
The most common are juvenile birds which have not learned to hunt and
climatic variations (such as the infamous El Nino) which cause a reduction in
Many people put out rat or mouse poison, not
realizing that birds will come along and eat the dead or dying
rodents. The birds are then, in turn, poisoned. We strongly
encourage the use of non-poisonous rodent control. Snap traps work
reasonably well, but the absolute best alternative is a device called a
RatZapper which kills them instantly with an electrical shock.
You may find oiled birds, even if there isn't a
famous oil spill nearby. Oceangoing ships often pump their bilges in
preparation for entering the Columbia River. This is illegal, but
nobody seems to care. This activity can cause oil slicks which engulf
birds and oil their feathers. Oiled feathers lose their ability to
repel water and to insulate the bird. The oil may not be real noticeable.
These birds will probably not have the thick coating of brown gummy stuff
all over them (crude oil) like you may have seen on TV coverage of massive
oil spills. White birds may show brown stains on their feathers, dark
birds will just look wet and bedraggled.
Along the roads you may also find birds which have
been hit by cars.
First - The first thing to do when you find
an injured bird is to determine the type of injuries and the condition of
the bird. It might also be helpful to note the conditions in which the
bird was found. The beach right after a storm, for example, or a sunny
day in late August. Note whether there is an oil sheen or tar balls
anywhere on the beach, even if the bird is not in them at the moment.
Call for help - Next, call a bird rehabber, the police
department, or call us at The Good Life (the new name of our physical store) and we
will find someone to help you.
The phone number for the Wildlife Rehab Center of the North Coast is
503-338-0331 and is monitored at all hours, so leave a message if nobody picks up.
WRCNC is operated by Sharnelle Fee, a licensed and
highly experienced wildlife rehabber, and is physically located up near Astoria.
These people, and anyone else you meet who is helping
wildlife, are volunteers, so be nice to them, treat them with respect, and
help them as much as you can. They give large amounts of their own
time and money to help wildlife, so please be flexible and prepared to spend
a few extra minutes taking the birds to them or whatever else they ask you
Help the bird - Once you call for help, and
depending on what kind of bird is injured and what condition it is in, you
may be asked to watch it and keep track of it, to guard it, or to bring it
in for help. If asked to bring it in, please do everything you can to
minimize stress to the bird. The best thing to do is to put a towel
over the entire bird, including its head, and pick it up very gently so as
not to damage its precious feathers. Put the bird in a roomy box with
air holes cut in it and newspaper in the bottom and close the lid.
(You can take the towel off of it after you put it in the box.) Resist
the temptation to open the top and peer in at the bird or to poke at it. This causes
stress and reduces their chance of recovery. Transport the bird if you
were so requested, or put the bird in a warm, dry, preferably dark location
and keep pets away from it.
Protect yourself - Many sea birds are
predators and their bills have evolved to grab or rip and tear flesh.
Your hands and arms are flesh. I'm sure you can figure out
what this means: be careful handling these birds. Some can harm you
and some cannot. Unless you know which is which, keep clear of their
beaks and use leather gloves and long-sleeved shirts or jackets when
handling them. Ducks can bite you all they want, but can't hurt
you. Grebes have a vicious look in their eye and will jab away at you
with their beaks, but don't hurt, either. Gulls and kittiwakes can,
and will tear the flesh off of your arms, though they most often just raise
welts and cause bruises. Loons are powerful and can cause puncture
wounds which will probably get infected. (We know about these things
from personal experience. :-) Herons are not usually found on the
beach, but have been found after being hit by a car or caught by a
dog. They have an 8" dagger attached to their face and they know
how to use it. Don't handle a heron unless you have to and get advice
from an expert first or you could lose an eye and get really beat up and
lacerated as well. Birds of prey have talons and beaks which are
designed for gripping and tearing flesh. You are made of flesh, so you
should definitely get expert advice before handling these birds.
Generally speaking, throwing a towel over a bird will be enough to enable
you to control it, but if
you do not wish to capture the bird yourself, please stay around and keep
track of the bird until a wildlife rehabber shows up to capture it.
The Law - First, the legal disclaimer: I am
not a lawyer and this is how things have been explained to my by a licensed
It is illegal for anyone but a licensed wildlife
rehabber to possess any native species and even rehabbers cannot keep them for
any reason other than to nurse them back to health or for educational
purposes. It is, however, legal to
rescue an injured bird and transport it to a rehabber. If possible, you are encouraged to call and ask for
help or get permission before you rescue a bird, but if doing so may cause
even further distress to the bird (for example, if it is out on a cold,
stormy beach and already suffering from hypothermia) then by all means, help
it out right away. If you always keep the best interests of the bird
first and foremost, and get it to a rehabber as soon as possible (don't
waste time eating lunch first and hauling it around in your trunk until you
finally make it to Cannon Beach in the late afternoon - this has happened)
then you will be safe under a "good Samaritan" clause in the law.
Wildlife Rehab Center
of the North Coast
PO Box 1232, Astoria, OR 97103
phone: 503-338-0331 your best bet in an emergency
WRCNC website: coastwildlife.org
You can send email to Sharnelle, but
please phone her to report injured wildlife
The Good Life shop (drop
off point) - 503-436-9806, 800-281-9806, Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach Police
Department - 503-436-2811, after hours - 503-738-6311
You find a seal or sea
lion on the beach
- Dead mammals on the beach can create an unpleasant smell and may pose a health hazard. Call the nearest
State Park or police department to report it. Someone will probably be
dispatched to bury the carcass. It's too bad we must do this, though. Before
DDT, there were many California Condors on the Oregon Coast. Much of their
nutrition came from large, stranded marine mammals. Now they are gone from
our beaches, probably forever, and we must do the cleanup ourselves.
Alive - Leave
them alone. In Cannon Beach you can report them to city hall and
someone will determine if the animal needs to be fenced off or needs
veterinary attention. Marine mammals come out onto the beach for a lot
of very routine (to them) reasons and have been doing so for thousands of
years. In almost all cases, they are in perfect health and need only
to be left alone and soon they will go about their business.
Seals will often leave seal pups on the beach to
rest while they hunt for food. Why do they do this? Because
Killer Whales and Great White Sharks like tasty seal veal for dinner.
The mother is savvy and swims fast and strong and may be able to avoid being
eaten, but the pups are an easy meal. Also, seal pups are small and
simply don't have the endurance to keep up with mom. If she puts them
on the beach, she knows exactly where they will be when she returns.
If you "rescue" a seal pup from the beach, the mother will return,
assume it was eaten by a predator, stop looking for it, and move on. Then, even if a
rehabber brings it back, it's too late - the pup will die. And if you
or your dog harass it - even so innocently as getting too close to look at
it - the pup may go back into the ocean and be washed away from the beach by
the currents before mom is able to come back and find it. And the pup
will die. So as cute as they may be, STAY AWAY from seals on the beach and
keep pets away from them, too.
Elephant Seals may also come up on the beach to
molt. Molting is when they shed their entire juvenile skin and grow in
the adult skin. It is a very stressful time for these huge
animals. It takes so much energy that they just lay there, still,
looking and smelling dead. It doesn't help that their skin is coming
off and looks terrible. If you leave these animals alone for a few
days, they will finish their molt and crawl back into the water to take
their place as some of the largest, most powerful seals in the ocean.
If you harass them they may die of stress on the beach or if you try
to "help" them into the water they will have to come back again or
might even die out there, depending on the stage of molt they are in.
Elephant Seals are also very powerful, dangerous creatures. If you do
manage to rouse one by harassing it, it could attack you causing severe
injuries. If this happens, don't blame the seal.
You see someone taking
critters from tide pools
Some tide pools are
legally protected and some are not. Ours here at Cannon Beach are a
protected Marine Garden and you are not supposed to take any living thing
from them. If you see someone taking something from a tide pool, the first
step should be to engage them in conversation.
Talk to them about the creature they are holding; about how it is so
specialized that sometimes even being moved to a different part of the same
tide pool can kill it. If they are holding a hermit crab, remind them
that it could be older than they are (if they are younger than about 25
years of age.) Tell them about how badly a dead sea creature smells. If
compassion doesn't work, you can inform them that it
is illegal to take anything from the tide pools. If they still
persist, don't get in a fight with them. If you
wish, you can report them to the police, though
I doubt much would happen unless some large scale poaching was going
on. Many people will put up a tough front, but if you
turn your back on them they will put the critter back, or at least
not take any more.
Birds & Birding