I got home from work the other night and as I was pulling into my driveway, I spotted a seabird over a foot tall crossing my neighborhood street. I thought, this can't be normal. This bird must be disoriented, injured or lost to be wandering around in my neighborhood, which happens to be about a half mile from the beach and wetlands. I got out of my car, walked slowly towards him (not sure what the gender was but my first thought was male), and although he didn't seem to mind me or feel threatened by me, I still kept a safe, respectful distance. I recorded a video of him and took several photos as well. I knew that if I got a hold of a wildlife rescue, I could send them the pictures and video and they could determine if the bird was injured and what kind of bird it was.
I first called California Wildlife Center's emergency hotline number, which I saved on my phone last year when I rescued a Mourning Dove that crashed into a neighbor's glass window. Coincidentally, it was just short of one day of exactly one year ago that it happened. (TIP: It's a good idea to save various animal and wildlife rescue organizations' phone numbers as contacts on your phone so that you'll have them readily available if you ever encounter an animal in need.) Since the hotline is run by volunteers, it goes straight to voicemail and it could take several hours for someone to call you back. I left a message with my name, phone number and a summary of the situation.
Next, I Googled other wildlife rescues in Los Angeles County. I came across the Wild Birds Unlimited website, which listed phone numbers for other local rescues and licensed rehabilitators for various bird species. International Bird Rescue was listed as the organization to call for water and shore birds (e.g., gulls, pelicans, etc.). I was so relieved to have found that number, and even more relieved when someone actually picked up the phone after a few rings. I explained the situation to the woman on the other line, and she gave me her cellphone number so that I could text her the video that I took of the bird. After viewing the video, she identified the bird as a Brandt's Cormorant, a seabird that is found along the Pacific Coast. The Waterbird Conservation for the Americas lists Brandt's Cormorants as a species of high concern–with its population as stable to declining.
The woman said that the bird didn't appear injured, and to wait a day or two to see if the bird was still around. If he is, then I'd have to call animal control since their rescue doesn't actually come out to rescue wildlife. I knew that if I left the bird there, he would get run over by a car or get attacked by neighborhood dogs, cats or worse, a coyote. I followed the bird around while trying to find a number for the local animal control, but to no avail. Even my neighbor came out to help after the bird got his dogs barking. My neighbor offered to keep the bird in his garage to keep him safe from predators and cars (a temporary solution while we figured out what to do), as long as we could help guide the bird to his garage. When that didn't work and a neighborhood cat popped out from the bushes, eyeing the bird just six feet away, I started to get really concerned about the bird's safety. That situation could've turned ugly real fast, and I was trying to position myself in between the two animals to help protect the bird.
Another neighbor who had just gotten out of his car saw what was happening and asked if we wanted to borrow his blanket to carry the bird. We slowly approached the bird and gently threw the blanket over so that he wouldn't be too stressed out about us carrying him. We carefully wrapped the bird in the blanket, hopped into my car and drove down to the nearby lagoon less than a mile away. We released the bird next to the lagoon and he jumped into the water and swam off. He briefly submerged himself under the water, resurfaced and continued swimming away. What a relief!! It was my first-ever wildlife rescue and release, and it's a moment I won't soon forget. To know that I was able to help an animal in need was so incredibly rewarding. I wish I had my phone on me to record it all, but I figured rather than running to my car to grab my phone, it was better to simply enjoy the moment.
It reminded me of a blog post Colleen Patrick-Goudreau recently shared regarding the baby deer, Pious, who had been badly injured months ago and was found dying next to her home's front stairs. She wrote, "The animals we live among are our fellow residents."
We must treat them as such, and as with any neighbor in need, we must come together and do whatever we can to help.