Unusual Birds at WildCare

Bufflehead and Virginia Rail

bufflehead at WildCare 3

Female Bufflehead in care at WildCare. Photo by Alison Hermance

Winter is considered the “off season” in the Wildlife Hospital because, well, it’s the opposite of “baby season.”

Baby season happens in spring and summer, and it is during the warm months that we admit about 80% of our nearly 4,000 animal patients each year.

But winter time is far from slow at WildCare.

Most of our patients this time of year are adult animals. Many are migratory, like the female Bufflehead duck you’ll meet in our video below.

She was found on the beach in Belvedere, weak and in distress.

Male Bufflehead. Photo by Tom Grey

Male Bufflehead. Photo by Tom Grey tgreybirds.com

Buffleheads are sea ducks, and they are in the same family as the goldeneyes. With their striking white and black plumage and large heads, these handsome birds seem to pop like popcorn as they abruptly dive and resurface while searching for their aquatic invertebrate prey. They breed in Northern Canada and Alaska, but they spend their winters in lakes and bays, especially shallow saltwater bays like Richardson Bay off Tiburon and Belvedere.

That is where this female Bufflehead was rescued. She was easily captured on the shore, which always indicates a problem– if an adult wild animal lets you get close enough to capture it, something is severely amiss. Upon her arrival at WildCare, she was recorded as QAR (quiet, alert and responsive), and her intake exam showed that she had no injuries, fractures or wounds. This was fortunate, as other grounded Buffleheads we have admitted were attacked by dogs or otherwise injured before rescue.

Bufflehead at WildCare. Photo by Alison HermanceMedical Staff placed the duck on oxygen for 45 minutes, and tube-fed her a hydrating electrolyte solution. They also tubed her with a nutritious slurry specific to fish-eating animals as her weight was in the normal range, but at the lower end of the scale.

In the video below, you can see this Bufflehead patient receive a follow-up tube-feeding of electrolyte solution. The tube is gently inserted down the bird’s throat and the solution is slowly pumped directly into her stomach. She is then placed back into her heat- and humidity-controlled incubator, with a tempting bowl of chopped-up fish in front of her.

Once this bird is stable, she will be transferred to International Bird Rescue in Fairfield where they specialize in waterbirds like her.




Photo by Gary Walter

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Virginia Rail Caught by Cat

Virginia Rail in care at WildCare. Photo by Alison Hermance

A warm towel helps the rail wake up after sedation. Photo by Alison Hermance

The Virginia Rail is not a migratory bird, but a full-time resident of Bay Area wetlands and marshes.

This handsome bird was caught by a cat, and had received a large gash on the inside of his leg in the process.

Virginia Rails are small, rarely-seen birds that live in freshwater marshes. They have a number of very special adaptations to their reed and water habitat, including long toes, strong legs, a compact body and (fascinatingly enough!) forehead feathers that are specially adapted to withstand wear from pushing through dense marsh vegetation.

Virginia Rails share their sensitive wetland habitat with hundreds of other species, including the Federally Endangered Clapper Rail.

Virginia Rail. Photo by Tom Grey

A Virginia Rail in its marsh habitat. Photo by Tom Grey tgreybirds.com

Because this bird’s habitat is so sensitive, it is especially disturbing to wildlife advocates when a rail is caught by a domestic cat as this one was. WildCare strongly recommends that domestic cats be kept inside, both for their health and for the safety of the wildlife they hunt. Especially if you live near a valuable wildlife habitat like a marsh, please consider keeping cats indoors.

This rail was lucky to escape with his life, but he received a massive laceration from the attack in the inguinal area at his groin. He also had a drooping wing, possibly from a dislocated shoulder. Assistant Director of Animal Care, Paulette Smith-Ruiz is particularly skilled at the incredibly delicate suturing of injuries like these on birds, so this Virginia Rail was in the best possible hands to recover from his ordeal. The wound required nearly a dozen sutures to be closed.

In the video below you’ll see this Virginia Rail waking up from sedation (but he’s still a little sleepy!) and watch Medical Staff inject him with a medication for pain. Immediately after the video was taken, he was placed in a warm incubator to recover. He will also be transferred to International Bird Rescue once he recovers enough for transfer.