Encounters with injured birds are more likely as the coast plays host for the next three months to feathered tourists making a long migration north.
On Sunday, the Galveston Bay Injured Bird Response Team — headed by Tiki Island resident Tim Long and Josh Henderson of the Galveston Police Department’s Animal Control Division — hosted a training session at Moody Gardens Aquarium, giving pointers for experienced and would-be bird rescuers. No birds were used in the training.
Capturing and moving injured birds is a delicate, and sometimes dangerous, process, experts said. But the efforts of locals have saved hundreds of birds along the coast in recent years, they said.
Many of those birds have been successful rehabilitated at the Wildlife Center of Texas in Houston and released back into the wild.
There was at least one sure way to know whether a bird needed help, Long said.
“If you can capture a bird, there’s something wrong with it,” he said.
Between January 2017 and this month, the Galveston Bay Injured Bird Response Team rescued more than 400 birds of more than 70 different species, Long said.
The team launched its network of more than 40 volunteers in 2017 to help meet the demands of an area that is home to many birds. It works with animal control, the Galveston Island Humane Society, the Wildlife Center of Texas and other related groups, Long said.
The first step for most people encountering an injured bird is to contact the appropriate people, such as those at an animal control or a wildlife center.
But Henderson offered pointers to more than two dozen attendees for how to handle a capture.
Henderson has learned a few tricks in his more than a decade as an animal control officer.
Protecting eyes with sunglasses or other glass or googles can prevent a disaster from a scared bird with a powerful beak or talons, he said. The same was true about wearing protective gloves, even just cheap leather gloves or basic gardening gloves for smaller birds, he said. Long sleeves help prevent scratches, he said.
“Even cuddly looking birds have weapons,” Henderson said.
Tightly woven nets can be used for capturing a bird, but it shouldn’t be kept or transported in a net because its limbs could get stuck, Henderson said. Cast nets, which anglers use to catch baitfish, should never be used, he said.
A sheet or light towel is the best tool for getting the bird to a safe cardboard box with air holes and space for it to move comfortable, but not so big the bird loses body heat, he said. Crumpled newspaper inside the transporting box helps keep the bird from getting covered in its inevitable excrement, Henderson said.
Pelicans in particular carry lice and sometimes ticks, Henderson said. But people have lower body temperatures than birds, so lice aren’t much interested in leaving birds for people, he said.
A dark box will often calm a bird, but he warned volunteers some maybe frightened and try to escape. In that case, use duct tape to wrap the box.
Take notes about the condition of the bird, which will later help the people doing the rehabilitation, he said. It’s important not the “overhandle” the bird, he said. For instance, don’t grasp around its keel bone, or sternum, which restricts its breathing, he said.
Some waterbirds, like pelicans, are mouth-breathers so animal control experts don’t hold their beaks closed, he said.
Still, Henderson recommended observing if the bird looked underweight and where it had sustained injuries, he said.
“You’re the first person to put hands on the bird, get as much info as you can,” he said.