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A Beginning

January 7, 2014

Story and photo by Claudia Duckworth

I’d like to introduce you to PWCs first education corvid, “Corax.” He belongs to the family that includes crows, jays, Magpies and nutcrackers. Corax is a raven and his designation in the ornithological world is Corvus Corax or Common Raven. Corax came to the PWC Center in the Spring of 2012 as a nestling whose nest and nest mates had been destroyed. He was injured, but, as always, we hoped he could eventually be returned to the wild.

Despite our efforts, Corax could not fly adequately to survive in the wild and the decision was made to include him in our education program. Corvids are notoriously difficult to train because, despite being among the smartest of animals, they are extremely wary of new things and change.
PWC is fortunate to have a young wildlife trainer, Karen Johnston, on staff who was experienced with education animals and was willing to work with me and Corax. Neither of us realized the time and energy it would take to earn this bird’s trust. Karen was faced with training a wild raven and a novice handler. We built a large aviary since Corax can fly in a limited way and developed a plan. Plan A quickly changed to Plan B, to C, and so on.

Karen was experienced with raptors and many other species but had not worked much with corvids. Everything frightened this bird: a new glove, a different bowl, a moved perch, including having him on the glove, walking around, an essential event for an education bird. Everything caused visible stress. At times, we were discouraged thinking we would have to give up and find a new home for a bird that we had come to know and care for.

At about the year mark, with time running out as Karen prepared to start nursing school, we had a breakthrough! Thanks to her skill and determination, it appeared Corax had achieved what David Jackson of “Zoo To You,” has described to us as “learning to learn.” Now, it was Karen and I who were wary. We’d been on a roller coaster ride of two steps forward followed by ten steps back. Was it real? I can only say that, so far, it is!

This journey will continue and we will have to ask our audiences to understand and help as Corax progresses. Karen has agreed to continue to work us into her busy schedule. For me, it has been a most happy adventure of getting to know two engaging fellow beings: one small, black and feathered and the other tall, slender and wise beyond her years.


Karen Johston with ‘Corax’


Match Doubles Donations to Fund Veterinarian at Pacific Wildlife Care

October 12, 2013

Morro Bay, CA, October 7, 2013—A matching fund has been established that will double all donations to Pacific Wildlife Care’s “Fund Our Vet” campaign.

A full-time on-site veterinarian, Dr. Shannon Riggs, was first hired at Pacific Wildlife Care (PWC) in January, 2013 as Director of Animal Care. Since then, survival rates have improved significantly, from 35% in January to 62% from March to October—well above the national average. The current funding effort aims at securing Riggs’ services through 2014.

Dr. Riggs oversees the work of skilled Senior Rehabilitators and 120 volunteers, optimizing efforts to provide prompt, expert care at PWC, whose mission is to treat and return to the natural habitat injured, orphaned, and pollution-damaged wildlife in San Luis Obispo County. The center has steadily expanded its capacity, volunteer base, and number of animals treated—taking in 2,336 animals in 2012.

Due to Riggs’ expertise, more animals are rehabilitated than could have been otherwise, such as a turkey vulture, recently released near Cal Poly, that was brought to the center with two broken wings—or a pelican that was admitted wrapped in fishing line and fish hooks, with a fish carcass in its esophagus and spines protruding from its pouch. Dr. Riggs reached down into its throat and pulled out a large rockfish. The pelican recovered and was released October 4.

Donations to the “Fund Our Vet” campaign will be matched, dollar for dollar, until January 15, 2014, although earlier donations will allow the center to better plan for the coming year.

For more about Pacific Wildlife Care, to make a donation to Fund Our Vet, or to learn about volunteer orientation, go to


Brown pelican with large fish carcass stuck in throat

removing fish

Great Horned Owl #13-757

August 3, 2013
Left: skin graft fails Right: wound is healing nicely

Left: skin graft fails
Right: wound is healing nicely

And now….a story from our Vet, Shannon Riggs, DVM

Great horned owl #13-757 arrived at Pacific Wildlife Care on May 28 after being found entangled in a barbed wire fence.  The bird’s rescuer was able to cut the small section of fence around which the bird’s right wing was wrapped and bring the bird to the clinic.

GHOW 757 sustained a significant injury to the underside of the patagium (or “wing web”) of the right wing.  A single barb had become embedded in the skin and, while struggling to free himself, the owl wrapped the skin tightly around the barb, tearing the skin.  The result was a large open wound approximately three inches in diameter.  Luckily, there was not significant damage to muscle or tendons and the bird was in good condition otherwise so, despite this severe injury, we decided to try working with this bird.

Barbed wire entanglement is relatively common injury for birds of prey, especially great horned owls.  The birds apparently don’t see the wire, or that there are barbs on the wire, and become caught, usually by a wing, as they are trying to fly through.  In struggling to free themselves, the birds often become more tightly trapped, wrapping themselves repeatedly around the wire.  The tightening acts like a tourniquet, compromising blood supply to the entangled wing.  Often, so much damage is done, both from the initial injury and from later loss of tissue due to the constriction, that these cases are not salvageable.

Because the skin that had been covering the wound site was so damaged on this owl, it was no longer viable and could not be used to repair the defect.  Because the skin of the patagium is stretched taut in flight, there is very little extra skin around the injured area that can be moved over such a large defect.  We were therefore left with having to manage the injury as an open wound.  Potential complications that are of concern are the potential for infection and loss of viability of exposed muscle, tendons, blood vessels, and nerves.

The owl was started on medications to prevent infection and to manage pain.  Luckily, the owl ate well on his own from the beginning, so his handling could be decreased by placing his medications into food items.  Daily dressing changes were performed, applying wound care products that keep tissue hydrated and promote healing.  Two weeks after admission, when the wound was looking clean and healthy, we decided to try a type of tissue graft.  Specially treated porcine tissue, a commercially available product used as a tissue patch, was affixed over the wound under anesthesia.  We continued to manage the wound 2-3 times per week, cleaning the tissue graft site and applying gel to keep the graft hydrated.  Unfortunately, after approximately 2 weeks, the graft was no longer viable and had to be removed.  We then found another product, a biological glass substance, which stimulates growth of new blood vessels and therefore healing.

The owl has shown a good response to this treatment.  Over the past month, the wound has been checked, cleaned, and a new dressing applied twice weekly.  The wound has contracted significantly without the formation of scar tissue, which would have impaired the ability of the wing to extend fully.  At this point, it seems that the owl is making significant strides toward release.  While it is always impossible to make predictions about wildlife cases, as any number of things can happen that could change the course of a patient’s rehabilitation, if things continue as they have been, the prospects for this owl’s release are good.  It will likely still be several weeks before we will know for certain, but we are hopeful that this owl will be able to return to his wild life.

Amazing, Dedicated PWC Volunteers

June 27, 2013

Pacific Wildlife Care could not do it’s lifesaving work without our legion of volunteers.  PWC currently has over 80 Center Volunteers, 50 Transporters, 20 Phone Volunteers and 50 Home Rehabbers.  Recently, we have several new “Front Desk” and “Bookkeeping” volunteers who now help answer phones, attempt to keep up with data input, check the mail, enter receipts, and help with intakes on wildlife brought in by the public.  Thank you:  Dorothy Correa, Joyce Pardue, Pati Scott, JoDea Harry

As an organization, the Board of Directors understands that we have grown to the point of needing an Executive Director as well as needing an Office Manager (however, funding is not yet available for such important, organization-stabilizing jobs); so, in the meantime, we rely heavily on our wonderful volunteers!

It’s such a rewarding experience to recognize that our volunteers, when they see or realize a “need” for PWC, step up, take initiative and just “do it!”

From Kelly Cherry (who stepped up to help with the Center and Phone Volunteer’s calendar and email reminders), to Christine Lanier (who saw the need to start up “Critter Corner” – a newsletter just for the Center Volunteers), to Shawn Brown (who saw the need for one-on-one mentoring sessions for new volunteers), to Gary Bendetti (who fixed the precarious cage washing area), to Karen Venditti (who has taken over gathering info for and emailing out “Critter Corner”), to Richard Grise (who will get the word out to our volunteers about Oiled Wildlife Care Network trainings), to Kathleen Dillon (who helped coordinate the recent Center remodel), to our volunteer Tech Guru / President / Treasurer Dave Klinzman (who as supported the organization beyond measure); we are all so very appreciative for the vision you had and the time you committed to PWC!

The organization benefits from each and every volunteer who gives of their time, ideas and skills.

THANK YOU!  THANK YOU! THANK YOU!  Look for information on the Volunteer Appreciation Picnic to be scheduled in late summer or early fall…

Christine Lanier smiles as she takes on another “dirty job!”

Christine Lanier smiles as she takes on another “dirty job!”

White Pelican

September 28, 2012

This is the first White Pelican the Center has seen. It is a protected bird in California, yet this did not stop someone from shooting it twice. A good samaritan spotted the bird hitting a tree and falling to the ground, and called PWC to come get it. The shots were reported to California Department of Fish and Game, but unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. But on a lighter note, the bullets only grazed the bird’s flank, and the bird is doing very well. He was released on Monday after we dressed his wounds and monitored him for 2 days.

The American White Pelican is a magnificent bird. For some comparison:

_____________Brown Pelican   vs     White Pelican
Avg Body Length     42-54 inches                50-70 inches
Avg Wing Span         72-98 inches                95-120 inches
Avg Weight                6-12 lbs                          11-20 lbs

Unlike the Brown Pelican, the White Pelican does not dive for its food, but rather swims. It also is not in the habit of begging for food, so we humans do not see the White Pelican as often as the Brown Pelican. But when we do get to see one, it is quite a magnificent sight.

If you would like to show your support of an organization helping animals such as this one that fall victim to cruelty and misfortune, then make a donation!

Holiday Postcards

September 25, 2012


With the Holidays rolling around, I know what a lot of you are thinking: What should I do for my holiday card this year? You may also be thinking about what gifts to buy, and whether maybe you should donate to a non-profit organization to spread the love a bit. Well here is a solution to TWO of those questions: Pacific Wildlife Care “Wildcards”.



Visit to view the amazing wildlife photos captured by local nature photographer, Cleve Nash. He’ll feature your selected photo on the front of each card and will add your preferred greeting and name inside. Ordering and contact information are also available on the website. Wildcards and envelopes are sold in packages of 10, starting at $15 for note size cards. All orders will be delivered to the PWC center for you to pay for and pick up. Cleve has generously offered to donate the money he receives from customers who mention Pacific Wildlife Care to our Center. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to send memorable holiday greetings to all of your friends and support PWC.

We thank you for your ongoing support!


September 3, 2012

How do you tell the difference between a Clark’s Grebe and a Western Grebe?

Well, pictured below, the Western grebe has a straight, yellow-green bill. Right around the eyes, the plumage is black. When they are young, their downy is grey.

The Clark’s Grebe, below, has a bright yellow, slightly upturned beak. Right around the eyes, the plumage is white. The downy young appear white, not grey.

Clark’s Grebe

Both types of Grebes will nest inland on large lakes and then migrate to the Pacific coast in winter. They make floating nests of plant material concealed among reeds. They have a very spectacular courtship display where two birds will rear up and patter across the water. Their young are relatively mature and mobile, and can swim immediately after birth. They are all excellent swimmers, owing this to their lobed toes.

They hunt by diving under water to catch carp, herring, mollusks, crabs, and salamanders. By pressing their feathers against the body, grebes can adjust their buoyancy. Often, they swim low in the water with just the head and neck exposed.

If you spot any grebes on lakes or on the coast this winter, snap a good photo and send it in to us!


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