Sailing Students Help Young Birds

Photos by Emily Zugnoni    Alameda youngsters with a local sailing club helped young avians get back to their natural environment recently.

Earlier this month 10 gull chicks just learning how to be Western Gulls in San Francisco Bay were helped by a group of youngsters learning how to be sailors.

The gull chicks had been raised at the International Bird Rescue (IBR) in Fairfield. Brought there as injured or orphaned chicks and after weeks of care, even surgery in at least one case, the birds were old and well enough to be released. The youngsters were sailing students at the Alameda Community Sailing Center’s (ACSC) summer sailing camp, which meets at the Encinal Boat Ramp on the West End.

Dawn Lemoine, an Alameda resident and relatively new volunteer for IBR, was looking for an open patch of beach near the USS Hornet  to release the birds. She had two large animal storage crates in the back of her car that were too large for her to lift by herself so she sought assistance from the camp. 

The crates needed to be handled carefully as each contained five young Western Gull chicks for release.

When ACSC director Emily Zugnoni asked for volunteers, all of the sailing students volunteered. A number of campers carefully carried the crates to the beach where Lemoine opened them. The students had several insightful questions and observations, all of which were discussed after the chicks were released. 

Lemoine had been warned that young chicks might be too nervous to exit the crates, but all 10 of them walked out to the water and stopped. As the sailors watched the chicks, the chicks watched the water. Then an adult Western Gull flew in, settled in the water in front of the chicks, and began squawking at the chicks. It then turned and flew off followed by all 10 chicks; a successful release.
The next day, people at the summer camp reported seeing two of the chicks, identified by the bands on their legs.

Six volunteers from the Golden Gate Audubon Society, including Lemoine, taught the sailing students about the birds around them and the challenges these birds face including monofilament (fishing line) entanglement. Alameda lost an osprey to monofilament entanglement this summer. It also poses a risk for the newly released gulls. 

In response, the sailing students made monofilament collection bins to put in all of the sailboats. Larger monofilament collectors have been placed at many piers and other fishing locations so people have a safe place to dispose of used fishing lines, increasing the safety of birds that visit or live in Alameda.

The goal of ACSC is to provide Alameda with world-class facilities and programming for accessible sailing. IBR is a worldwide leader in the care and rehabilitation of seabirds and other aquatic birds. They research the best practices to care for injured and abandoned birds at their crisis hospitals in California and Alaska and share them worldwide.