Two Bears Walk Into a Bar…

By Tom Batter, WIL Scientific Aid

An opening line like the title above is usually followed with some kind of a punch line.  Unfortunately you will find no joke here; two black bear cubs were recently confiscated from a local Kern County drinking establishment.  The presumably orphaned cubs came and went from the bar for about 8 weeks, where they were fed and played with by patrons, before the matter was brought to CDFW wildlife officer’s attention. As it is illegal to feed bears in the state of California, not to mention both human and wildlife health and welfare were at risk, the cubs were brought to the WIL for temporary housing and care.

The black bear cubs enjoy an afternoon nap in the hammock. (Photo courtesy J. Sherman)

The black bear cubs enjoy some R&R in their hammock. (Photo courtesy J. Sherman)

There was some hope that the cubs could be rehabilitated and released in accordance with department guidelines.  However, upon arrival at the WIL it was clear that these bears were far too habituated to humans.  After being evaluated by wildlife professionals, it was decided that these bears will have to be housed in captivity for the remainder of their lives.

It would be remiss of the WIL if we did not (again) direct our reader’s attention to the “Keep Me Wild” campaign.  Although it has become somewhat of a reoccurring theme on our blog, it is important to remember that California’s wildlife belongs in the wild. Although the folks feeding these cubs may have thought they were helping, the reality is that these cubs have been permanently habituated to people and will have to live a life in captivity.

The WIL has partnered with a high quality facility – the Houston Zoo in Houston, TX – to place both siblings together.  Upon their debut in their new enclosure last month, visitors watched as the cubs attempted a daring escape!  Zoo officials were able to safely and securely return them to their enclosure.  Leave it to California bear cubs to mess with Texas!

Remember: do not feed wild animals and do not handle wild animals; this endangers you and harms the wildlife as well.  Click here for steps to take should you come across nuisance, dangerous, or injured wildlife.

Got Acorns?

If you have acorns in your area, be on the look out for band-tailed pigeons this winter. Band-tailed pigeons are California’s only native pigeon and this time of year, they will fly great distances to find acorns. Band-tailed pigeons are one of the rare bird species that will actually swallow acorns whole! Unfortunately, this behavior also makes them more susceptible to Trichomonosis, a disease caused by a single-celled microscopic protozoan parasite, Trichomonas gallinae.

Band-tailed pigeon. Photo by Krysta Rogers.

Adult band-tailed pigeon showing the characteristic white crescent and iridescent greenish-bronze patch of feathers on the hind neck and black band on the tail, for which the species was named. Photo by Krysta Rogers, 2013.

The parasite lives in the mouth and throat of infected birds, causing caseous (“cheese-like”) lesions to develop in the bird’s mouth or esophagus. As the lesions become larger, the pigeons can no longer swallow acorns, leading to weight loss and eventually death. The lesions also may cause the pigeon to suffocate, if they block the airway.

Band-tailed pigeons with Trichomonosis. Photos by Jeff Cann & Krysta Rogers.

Fig. 1: A band-tailed pigeon showing signs of infection with Trichomonosis.
Fig. 2: A dead band-tailed pigeon observed during a Trichomonosis die-off in 2012.
Fig. 3: Caseous lesions in the oral cavity of a band-tailed pigeon with Trichomonosis.
Photos by Jeff Cann (Fig. 1) & Krysta Rogers (Fig. 2 & 3).

While this disease can make pigeons sick any time of the year, large-scale die-offs only occur during the winter, in some years. The last series of mortality events were reported in 2012 in California, when up to 10,000 pigeons were estimated to have died between December and March. Recent research by CDFW suggests that these mortality events are more likely to occur in winters with low precipitation, similar to the conditions we’ve been experiencing so far this winter.

So, if you have acorns, be on the lookout for band-tailed pigeons and enjoy watching them comically hang from the branches as they try to reach an acorn. Hopefully, the pigeons will not experience any die-offs this winter. However, if you do happen to see pigeons that appear sick, such as showing signs of weakness, labored breathing, breathing with their bill open, drooling, reluctance to fly when approached, or are dead, you can help by reporting the mortality to the Wildlife Investigations Lab.

If you have any questions, or would like to report sick or dead band-tailed pigeons, contact Krysta Rogers at 916-358-1662.