Ring-billed Rescue

Ring-billed Gull

Although Sunday was cooler and windier than Saturday, I made plans to meet Chris and Paul at Shirley’s Bay for some birding along the Ottawa River. Since I was early, I stopped in at the Rideau Trail on Richmond Road first. There I saw a Northern Parula, a Common Yellowthroat, something which might have been a Blackpoll Warbler, and both Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos. For some reason Blue-headed Vireos are easily found at this trail during the fall, which is one of the reasons I like to stop here before heading elsewhere.

At Shirley’s Bay, I met Chris and Paul in the parking lot. We then proceeded through the woods to the dyke, encountering a surprising number of warblers along the way.

Altogether I tallied eight warbler species: Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Blackpoll, Chestnut-sided, Black-and-white, Northern Parula, American Redstart, and a stunning male Blackburnian Warbler, the first one I’ve seen in Ottawa this year. Chris and Paul also saw Yellow-rumped, Nashville, Palm and Bay-breasted Warblers, which I didn’t. I still needed Bay-breasted for my year list and was disappointed it didn’t stick around for very long. In fact, it was amazing how quickly the birds would envelope us, darting in the leaves above and behind and beside us, and then vanish as their search for insects carried them deeper into the woods. It was a wonderful and thrilling experience – there was so much activity around us that we simply did not know which bird to focus on first.

The weather was less pleasant on the dyke. The sky was almost completely covered with clouds, and the wind along the river was fierce, making it feel cold enough to want my winter hat and scarf. The Pectoral Sandpiper was still there, and we saw both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plovers, Green-winged Teals, and 15 Great Egrets! A couple of swallows were skimming the air above the bay, and a Bald Eagle flew over. More warblers were foraging in the trees along the dyke as well.

Eager to get out of the wind, we went to Ottawa Beach next. Although we didn’t see any shorebirds there, we did see a family in the grass next to the parking lot with a small mammal. The mammal began running through the grass toward a tree. We followed it, and when it began to climb the tree we realized it was a mouse. The family must have brought it to the park to release it.

Peromyscus sp.

It was either a Deer Mouse or a White-footed Mouse, two species which are so similar in appearance that they can only be identified in the hand using a taxonomic key. Both of them live in a variety of habitats, such as open woodlands, riparian areas, agricultural areas bordering woodlands, and man-made structures. Perhaps unfortunately for the family releasing it into the wild, adult Deer Mice removed from more than a kilometre from where they were trapped are generally able to return to their home burrows within a day!

Peromyscus sp.

Chris, Paul and I parted ways shortly after that, and I continued on to Mud Lake, my last stop of the day. I witnessed an Osprey fishing in Mud Lake and a Cooper’s Hawk being harassed by the crows in the woods. The Ridge was quiet, so I went down the river behind it to see if any warblers or songbirds were foraging in the trees there. While near the water, I almost stepped on a Ring-billed Gull sitting on the ground. It began walking away from me, and I saw it had a clam in its beak.

I decided to take a few pictures of the gull eating the clam, and was amused when I watched it walk to the water and dunk it in.

When it began walking back up the bank, I realized that it was not eating the clam; rather, its bill was stuck in the clam.

Ring-billed Gull

Close-up of Ring-billed Gull

He seemed very weak and lethargic, and I became concerned. I thought I would try to remove the clam from his bill, so I walked up to him and caught him gently but firmly around his body. Upon closer inspection, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to remove the clam from his mandible without injuring his mouth, so I decided to take him to the Wild Bird Care Centre instead. Unfortunately I had parked along Britannia Road at the Rowatt Street entrance, so I had a long walk back to my car. Once I reached my car, I placed him in a green grocery bin and placed my coat over top of it, securing it with bungee cords. Although he didn’t seem to appreciate being held captive, he didn’t struggle much either.

We reached the WBCC where I delivered him safely into the hands of the veterinarians who work there. They hadn’t seen anything like this before, and seemed both amused and compassionate when they saw his predicament.

WBCC sign on Moodie Drive

I called back once a week for updates, and was relieved when I was told they had removed the clam. However, his mouth was swollen and he had developed an infection. After a couple weeks of being given antibiotics, the gull was finally released into the wild on October 2, 2010.

I was very happy I was able to give this gull a second chance at life. If I had left it at Mud Lake, it would have become weaker as it couldn’t eat, and the infection or a predator may have finished it off.

I know many people would say “it’s just a gull” or that we should just “let nature take its course”, but I am a firm believer that if it’s in our capacity, and we have the tools to save another living being, whether human or animal, we should do everything in our power to help it survive. Life is too precious to callously turn our backs on an injured bird, just because it’s a common species or because we think we shouldn’t interfere with “nature’s plan”. After all, only a shocking 20-25% of birds manage to survive their first year. Hopefully, the gull I rescued is flying free somewhere along the river, foraging in a cornfield, or loafing at the dump, and will be one of those 20-25% that survive.

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