March 8, 2024 – Northern Saw-whet owl

Officer Mullen reports…

Earlier this week I was working at dispatch when I received a call from a concerned homeowner about a small baby owl in her back yard that was not flying away when approached and had been there for a few hours. She was afraid that the owl might be sick or injured. Since we needed her to be home to access the backyard, I asked if she would be home for a bit while I found an officer to go out there and she told me that she would stay home as long as it takes to ensure that the owl was cared for. I sent Lieutenant Ryer out to get a closer look at the owl’s condition. Lt. Ryer arrived on scene and met with the homeowner who brought her into the backyard to see the small owl that taken up residency on her back steps. Due to the small size, it was first thought to be a baby owl, but upon closer inspection the owl appeared to be an adult Northern Saw-whet owl (and anecdotally one of the cutest owls ever).

Wearing her protective bite gloves, Lt. Ryer used a large towel and slowly approached the owl. Using the towel, she was able to gently grab the owl and place the bird in a transport box. Once in the box, she was able to get a better look at the bird, who appeared to be hopping around well and had no apparent injury. These birds are mainly nocturnal and so it was a bit strange to find one during the day just sitting on the ground. After communicating via text with our partners at Peninsula Humane Society Wildlife Care Center in Burlingame, they thought it was best to bring the bird to them for a closer evaluation.

Northern Saw-whet owls are mainly active at late dusk and through the night, they have excellent low-light vision and can easily find prey in the darkness of night. Its defense upon discovery is to sit still and not fly, this behavior leads people to perceive these owls as “tame” and was possibly the behavior that we witnessed in the homeowner’s backyard.

During breeding season males give a rhythmic tooting song that can go on for hours without a break. The bird was named for this song which resembles the sound of a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone. The female Northern Saw-whet owl does all of the incubation and brooding, while the male hunts and brings back food for all to eat. When the youngest nestling is about 18 days old, the female leaves the nest to roost elsewhere. The male continues to bring food for another month and the older nestlings will help to feed their younger siblings. They are one of the smallest owls in North America and can be similar in size to an American Robin.

The owl was brought back to SFACC where we put a call out to our dedicated transport volunteers to help bring this adorable owl to get wonderful care he deserved with our amazing rescue partners at PHS Wildlife Center. We are always in need of more people who are available to help us transport creatures of all shapes and sizes to our rescue partners. Please reach out to us on our website and see how you can become a transport volunteer. If you see wildlife in need of our care, please call SFACC dispatch at 415-554-9400 to speak with one of our officers.

February 9, 2024 – grebe on the beach

Officer Mullen reports…
Earlier this week, after some of the big storms, a concerned citizen called our dispatch at 415-554-9400 to report a bird on the beach that appeared to be in some distress. The bird was being dive-bombed by a group of crows and dogs were running up and disturbing the bird. I made my way to the beach and some nice people had already gathered up the bird and placed it carefully in a box to protect it as they awaited my arrival. I peered into the box and found a young apparently healthy Western Grebe. These are beautiful black and white birds with red eyes and a long pointy bill (that they know how to use well, so be careful). The person told me that the bird was still quite feisty, but did not appear to be able to walk or fly away when the dogs and people approached, so they were concerned that the bird was injured.

The Western Grebe is a water dwelling, diving bird that is an aggressive hunter, diving into the water and spearing fish with its long bill. They have thick waterproof plumage that actually traps water between feathers, giving them great control of their buoyancy. They can sink deeply or stay at or just below the surface, exposing as much or as little of their body as they wish. Their legs are set in the rear of their bodies which makes them excellent swimmers, but makes walking on land very awkward. They are known for their elaborate aquatic courting displays where they appear to walk and run on the surface of the water standing upright and flapping their wings. Grebes raise their young together and carry their young on their backs. There is a patch of bare yellow skin on the head of the young that turns scarlet red when begging for food or if separated from the parents. Grebes fly short distances at a time and can only take off from the water, never from dry land. These birds are rarely found on land and mainly end up on our shores during or after major storms, brought in by the high surf and winds.

Thankfully this Western Grebe did not appear to be injured, but was just displaced from the storms and probably a bit tired and hungry. We were able to transport this beautiful bird to our rescue partners at Peninsula Humane Society Wildlife Care Center in Burlingame to get some much needed rest and nutrition to help get this bird back in the water once again. A huge thank you to the concerned citizens who called about the bird and protected him until we were able to pick up and transport it. Thank you also to PHS Wildlife Care Center for their amazing work helping with the rehabilitation of all of the displaced and injured animals left behind after the crazy storms we have experienced. Please do not hesitate to call our dispatch (415-554-9400) if you see any injured or displaced wildlife.

January 26, 2024 – goat rescued in GGPark

Friday Field Notes with Officer Mullen: Earlier in the week we got a call from the SF Park Ranger dispatch stating that their park rangers had eyes on a goat that was loose in Golden Gate Park near Lloyd Lake. I was sent out to assist the park rangers currently on scene, help them secure the goat and bring it back to the shelter. There were a few park rangers along with several employees of San Francisco Park and Recreation stationed around Lloyd lake on foot and in trucks. The goat was very avoidant of us and ran whenever one of us got near. Thankfully the goat remained in the same general area and kept creating a loop, allowing us to station people in certain areas to keep eyes on the goat and help to guide him away from traffic.

After coming up with a few plans and having the goat outsmart us on all of them, we were finally able to corner the goat into thick brush. He was scared and went deeper into the brush and thankfully got a bit stuck (along with myself). Once he was stuck, Ranger Parker, who was below the goat, was able to get a hold of his horns and keep him from moving. Ranger Burrows and I climbed down to where Parker was standing and were able to secure the goat with a slip lead. At this point, the goat relaxed and allowed us to untangle his legs from the branches and lower him onto the ground. Once on the ground, he let us know that he was not thrilled about being caught, but eventually ranger Parker got a hold of his horns again and helped us guide him to the van. I used a stretcher from the van as a ramp and he walked right in. Once in the van I used a slip lead to make a temporary halter on his head to secure him for transfer. There were many hands involved in this rescue and I know that we would not have been successful without all of the helpers from SF Park and Recreational department and especially the park rangers. I was there for over an hour and they were there for a few hours before I got there. It was a long and athletic adventure, but well worth it when we were finally able to load him up safely into the van unharmed.

San Francisco is the first city in the US where 100% of its residents live within a 10 minute walk of a park. The SF Recreation and Park Dept. maintains over 225 parks, playgrounds and open spaces in San Francisco, plus two outside the city limits; Sharp Park in Pacifica and Camp Mather in the high sierras. They employ more than 2,000 individuals from gardeners, foresters, recreation leaders to park rangers, custodians, electricians and more. The Park Patrol Department utilizes park rangers to provide public safety, protection of park properties and educate people in how to live harmoniously with nature and the wildlife around them.

We don’t know where this goat came from and how he got into Golden Gate Park, all we know is that he is safe now and awaiting his next adventure with our rescue partner, Goatlandia Farm Animal Sanctuary. We are so thankful for the fantastic teamwork with the park rangers and the other employees of SF Park and Recreational Department, it really took each and every one of us working together to safely secure the goat and get him out of harm’s way. We are also thankful to Goatlandia for accepting this wonderful guy into their herd so he can live a long healthy life with other goats.

January 19, 2024 – great horned owl rescued

Officer Mullen reports…
Earlier this week a groundskeeper at a golf course called our dispatch with concern for a Great Horned Owl that appeared to be situated in front of one of the equipment sheds. The owl had been on the ground for quite some time and there was a large group of crows circling above, dive-bombing and harassing the owl. I arrived at the golf course and the person who called me met me at the service road and directed me to where the owl was. Another gentleman was standing guard and protecting the owl from the relentless crows. Great Horned Owls often hunt and kill crows, so as soon as an owl is on the ground the crows take advantage and form large groups to continually harass their predator. The owl was sitting between two service sheds. Not wanting him to get scared and go between the sheds, I approached him from the side, talked softly to him and told him what I was about to do. Wearing bite gloves and using a long net I slowly got closer to the owl. The owl did resist a little and took a short flight, indicating that his wings worked properly, but quickly landed. He was then secured with the net, placed in a wire transfer cage and covered with a towel to reduce stress. Before fully covering him, I took a quick look at the owl to try and determine what was wrong. I immediately saw that one of the owl’s toes was bleeding and affecting the placement, curling the talon under the toe. I took a picture of the injury and texted our partners at Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA Wildlife Care Center in Burlingame. They said that they would gladly accept this Great Horned Owl for rehabilitation and treatment of his injury.

Great Horned Owls have large eyes and pupils that open widely in the dark for excellent night vision. Their eyes do not move in their sockets but they can swivel their heads 270 degrees to look in any direction. Great Horned Owls do not migrate and actively defend their territories that range in sizes of 0.1 to 1.5 square miles. These species mate for life and will return to the same partner every year for breeding. However once breeding and nesting season is over, the mated pair will separate and live solitary until the next season begins. Great Horned Owls have soft feathers to help insulate from the cold and also stifle the sounds of their wings making them almost silent when they are flying and hunting. These owls have the most diverse diet of all North American raptors ranging from small mammals, amphibians and insects to larger mammals such as skunk, rabbits, opossums and even porcupines.

We are very thankful for the person who notified and directed me to the injured owl and for the other bystander who stood guard protecting the owl from the harassment of the crows. They also helped me to document the process by taking photos and video. We were able to successfully transfer this owl to PHS Wildlife Care Center and are hopeful that once the bird heals, he will return back to his San Francisco home. If you see any injured wildlife, please call our dispatch at tel:415-554-9400, we have officers answering the phones from 6am to midnight 7 days a week. Interested in helping injured wildlife? We are always in need of drivers to help bring these animals to our transfer partners, please look at our volunteer page on our website and see how you can get involved (and see some pretty amazing wildlife, too).

November 10, 2023 – gull entangled in fishing line

Officer Mullen reports…

I was working dispatch when we got a call from a concerned resident who saw a young gull on a boat that appeared to be caught on something, as the wing was sticking out in a strange way. Officer Quirke was in the area and was sent to check on the bird. When he arrived he soon discovered that the bird was entangled in fishing line that was wrapped around a nearby pole. After gaining permission from the Harbor Master and owner of the boat, Officer Quirke went on board to get a closer look and rescue the bird from the line. Officer Quirke gently laid a towel over the bird to both aid in restraint and calm the gull. He was able to use a knife to gently cut away the fishing line. The line had wrapped around two large feathers and with a few cuts, the line fell off and the bird was no longer entangled. Officer Quirke still had control of the gull and gave the bird a thorough examination. Thankfully the gull did not appear to have any injuries and was able to be released on scene.

There are over 50 different species of gulls and they are the only seabird to inhabit all seven continents. They are one of the only seabirds that can walk as easily on land as they paddle in the water. Gulls are extremely intelligent and inquisitive, which often leads to them finding themselves in some troublesome situations. This along with improper discarding of fishing line creates a dangerous situation for many shorebirds. Thankfully many piers and harbors along the California Coastline have monofilament recycling bins for fishermen to utilize. San Francisco has a program that collects the recycled fishing line and then melts it down to create artificial reefs that are used for freshwater fish living under piers.

If you see a bird or any animal tangled in fishing line or who appears to be in distress, please call our dispatch at 415-554-9400. If you know a fisherman (or woman) please remind them to properly dispose of and recycle their monofilament fishing line. Thank you for helping us keep our shorebirds happy and healthy during their stay in San Francisco.