Rescue and Rehabilitation

Our primary work is to rescue, rehabilitate and release native wild birds that are injured, orphaned or sick. These tasks require the coordinated efforts of dozens of dedicated volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. Most of our birds come from Sonoma County, but because we serve the entire North San Francisco Bay Area (Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties), we depend upon the financial and logistical support of this larger regional community to fulfill our mission.

Each year, BRC receives between 2500 and 3000 birds, ranging from tiny featherless newborns to enormous eagles — approximately 130 species in all. Around 75% of these birds are admitted during the busy Baby Bird Season (April-September) when we are assisted by a number of enthusiastic Junior Volunteers.

BRC Rescue and Rehab Teams

Most often people will simply bring birds they have found directly to the Center. This is the fastest way to get a bird the immediate care it needs. But sometimes that isn’t possible, or the finder doesn’t know what to do. That’s when the Response Team swings into action. Team members often provide the first line of contact with the public, whether answering phone calls or admitting injured birds brought in to the Center. They receive these birds and collect information needed by our hospital staff to evaluate a bird’s condition and treatment, and also serve as a source of information regarding Center operations, upcoming events and volunteer opportunities.

During the spring and summer Baby Bird Season this team plays an important role, helping callers evaluate and decide whether a young bird can be safely left where it is or if it needs to be brought in. They may also offer direction to someone with a bird caught in a warehouse, trapped in a chimney, flying into a window or in need of our assistance in some other way. (The Found a Bird? section addresses many of these scenarios.) They also coordinate between bird finders and our Field Rescue Team, when finders are unable to bring birds to the Center, or are unable or unwilling to attempt capturing a raptor or large waterbird themselves.

Field Rescuers are trained to evaluate situations and decide whether or not a bird needs to be caught and brought in for treatment, and how to safely capture and transport larger or potentially dangerous birds.

Please note: All of our Field Rescuers are volunteers, with jobs and other responsibilities. While every effort is made to contact and dispatch Rescuers into the field, we cannot guarantee their availability.

Once a bird is admitted to our care, it goes directly to the Rehabilitation Hospital for evaluation and treatment. During Baby Bird Season this work largely centers around hand-feeding babies and juveniles, preparing them for release once they are old enough. Sick or injured birds may require more extensive care or physical therapy, often for a longer period, before they can be released.

Larger birds, especially raptors (birds of prey, such as hawks, owls and falcons), need to build up their flight muscles after a long hospital stay. This flight conditioning (attached to a long tether in an open field) is called creancing. Several flights a day for a week or two gets a bird ready for release, and gives its handlers a chance to assess its flight capability.

The Good Stuff: Releasing Back to the Wild

Re-nesting and Reuniting

In the case of baby raptors, sometimes the youngsters simply outgrow their nest before they are ready to leave it, or the nest itself disintegrates, resulting in the young birds finding themselves on the ground and vulnerable. BRC has in recent years undertaken an innovative program to return birds to their parents, often requiring an experienced tree-climber to ascend 70 feet or more to secure a sturdy wicker basket “nest” to a branch before the young birds are lifted up and placed in it.

Hard and Soft Releases

“Hard release” refers to simply taking a bird out and letting it go, preferably in the area it was found. It is commonly done with raptors and other large birds.

“Soft release” is a process that occurs over a longer period, where young songbirds are placed in a large cage that is safely suspended in a place frequented by other birds of that species. The young birds continue to have food and water provided to them by human monitors as they acclimate to being outside, and they are able to observe the behavior of their wild cousins. After several days, the cage door is left open, and the young birds are free to leave and join the flock.

We’ll soon be adding some great release stories and photos to our News section, so check back soon.