August 18, 2023 – seagull trapped in warehouse


Officer Mullen reports…

Earlier this week, I was working in dispatch when I received a call from the DHL warehouse. They heard and noticed webbed feet pacing back and forth in one of the warehouse skylights. Due to the height of the building the best way to gain access was coordinating with the San Francisco Fire Department for use of their tall ladders to reach the bird. Officer Ryer and Officer Quirke were sent out to investigate the best way to free this gull. SFFD met them at the DHL warehouse and were able to help the officers gain access to the roof. After a long climb up to the roof they found the gull stuck in a sunken skylight, unable to get enough lift to get out.

Officer Quirke used a net to scoop up the bird. The bird was unharmed and was able to be released from the roof and rejoin the group of gulls that were circling above.

There are times when we are on calls and need assistance from the Fire Department or Police Department and they are always just a call away and will be there to help. We work closely with these teams and support them when they have animal encounters and need our expertise.

“Seagull” is a general term for all species of gulls. There are over 50 different types of gulls and some do not even live near the sea. Gulls can drink both fresh and salt water. They have a special gland above their eyes that flush the salt from their systems though openings in their bill. This allows them to fly long distances over water and stay hydrated. Gulls are very clever and have been observed passing behaviors on to their young, such as stomping their feet in a group to imitate rainfall to trick the earthworms to come to the surface. Gulls work together as a mob and will harass larger predators and steal their prey.

Gulls are everywhere in the city. The younger grey fledglings are just finishing up their flight school and soon will be wearing the traditional white and grey attire. If you ever notice a gull out of place or injured, please do not hesitate to call our dispatch at 415-554-9400 and we will send someone out to assess the situation. Thank you for helping to keep our urban wildlife happy and thriving.

August 11, 2023 – pigeon caught in netting

I was working at dispatch when a concerned resident called me about a pigeon that he saw when looking out his window. This poor pigeon was caught in netting and hanging upside down in a light well. Many apartment buildings have all sorts of spaces either between buildings or between different units and some try to keep the urban wildlife out by putting up netting. This often results in animals getting trapped in or beneath the netting, which can result in injury or even death to the animal

Thankfully the resident had just noticed the bird outside his window and he could see that the pigeon was still moving with no noticeable injuries. The resident sent me a picture and I quickly dispatched Officer Sherwood to go out and rescue the pigeon. She was able to reach the pigeon from a window above the bird and carefully cut the netting away from the feathers and feet. The pigeon appeared to be unharmed. Officer Sherwood found a nearby spot to set the pigeon down, and after getting his bearings, he waddled off down the ledge until he found an open spot and took flight.

Pigeons are extremely intelligent birds. They have an internal map and compass sense that help them determine direction and have been known to find their way back to their nest from over 1,300 miles away. Homing pigeons can fly over 500 miles at speeds of 60mph or more in a single day without making any stops for food or water. The fastest recorded speed of a pigeon was 92.5mph! Pigeons have no aggressive tendencies which makes them very easy to domesticate. They have served in wars, received medals of bravery, and are responsible for saving thousands of human lives on the front line. Many religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Hindu, and Sikh, honor these birds and give them sanctity and safety in their places of worship.

People often call our dispatch and ask if we help pigeons, and they will say “but it’s just a pigeon.” It’s never just a pigeon to us; these are remarkable birds that deserve to live and thrive in this city. So, if you see a pigeon in distress, please do not hesitate to call our dispatch at 415-554-9400 to report it. We work with rescues that help us with the injured pigeons and help them get back on their feet.

August 4, 2023 – raccoons lost on a pier

Late one sunny morning two residents were walking along the path in the Marina when they noticed two young raccoons circling a post at a pier. They seemed to be struggling to find their way back to solid ground. It was way past their bedtime and with more and more people running and biking on the well-used paths along the waterfront, the raccoons were trapped on the pier and needed some assistance to get past the crowds. I was called out to help these young kits get back to a more suitable environment.

On my way there, the reporting resident that was standing by sent me an update that the raccoons had decided to swim across and attempt to climb a wall up to the shore. After a few failed attempts they were unsuccessful and swam back to the pier for a rest.

When I arrived on scene, I located the tired raccoons and quickly got to work helping them out of this stressful situation. One drenched raccoon was on the edge of the pier curled up in a ball leaning against a pole. Not wanting to scare him and knowing I really had only one chance before he jumped back in the water, I used a net and held it behind me as I approached very slowly. I slowly brought the net around and over the young raccoon. Once in the net he was snarling and letting me know how tough he was. Thankfully he was young and easier to get out of the netting and into the wire transport carrier. His sibling had wedged himself under the ramps to the pier and I was able to get him out using our more preferred method when dealing with raccoons: the humane catch pole. We use a pole that has a loop at the end that we secure around the animal to safely move them. We have to wait until we have the loop secured around the animal’s head and then we have to get them to step one leg forward so that the arm fully goes through the loop. This can take a lot of time and patience. Once the arm is fully through the loop, we quickly tighten the loop around the animal’s torso and safely move the animal. The siblings were reunited in the transport carrier, a little bickering ensued, but they soon calmed down once they were covered with a towel and transported past the ever-growing crowd of spectators. I found a spot just a few yards away that was a safe and secure place to release them. They were reluctant to get out of the carrier, but once they did, they were off on their way. They tucked under the trailer, eager to find a place to sleep, away from all of the commotion.

I wanted to be sure that I released them in a nearby location as these kits are probably still traveling with and learning from their mother and other siblings. They travel as a family unit for the first year of life then, split off to find territories of their own, living mainly solitary nocturnal lives. While most animals use sight and hearing to find and differentiate food, raccoons use their sense of touch. Which is helpful since they mainly hunt for food in the darkness of the night. Raccoons can heighten their sense of touch through a behavior called dousing. Raccoons are often seen placing objects or food in water as if they are washing them, but what they are doing is wetting their paws to stimulate the nerve endings. Like light to the human eye, water on a raccoon’s hands gives it more sensory information to work with, allowing the raccoon to feel much more than it would otherwise.

Raccoons are important to our urban ecosystem so if you ever see a raccoon that is out of place, injured or appears to be sick, please give our dispatchers a call at 415-554-9400. We will ask a few simple questions and send an officer out to respond to the situation. Thank you to the public who always help to keep us informed on the welfare of all of the animals that inhabit our city.

July 28, 2023 – tortoise by the road

Earlier this week, I was working at dispatch when I received a call from a concerned resident who was walking home from a park in the city when she saw a small tortoise on the side of the road. She noticed that the tortoise had some marks and abrasions on the shell and was concerned that the animal might be injured. She scooped up the tortoise, placed the animal in a box and gave me a call at dispatch. She was unsure if the animal she found was a native turtle or a domestic pet turtle. I gave her a phone number so she could text me a photo, so that I could identify the animal and assess whether it needed immediate care. I received her text and determined that this was a non-native species, likely someone’s escaped Russian or Greek pet tortoise that are known to dig out of outdoor enclosures and go on long adventures. The scars and marks on the shell looked to be healed trauma, so I spoke with the resident and gave her an update. We discussed that there was no immediate concern for injury and that she could bring the animal to the shelter at her convenience.

At the shelter we can provide some much-needed proper husbandry for this tortoise, such as correct lighting, soaking and proper diet while trying to locate the owner. Once the tortoise got to the shelter, she was identified as a Greek tortoise who was probably a female. Truly determining a tortoise’s sex and age can be difficult, but our best guess is that this is a very mature female Greek tortoise who seems to have been living on her own in the wilds of San Francisco for quite some time. Her shell has some damage, but the injuries seem to be older and all have healed. She was quite dry when she came in and has enjoyed her nice warm water soaks that help to rehydrate her body and stimulate movement of the GI system. She seems to be settling into her new digs in the shelter and I even got her to eat a little endive and Swiss chard snack.

As pets, Greek tortoises have been known to live up to 100 years old and many tortoises remain in the same family of caretakers and are passed down from one generation to the next. Tortoises are a big responsibility to take on as pets, but can be quite interactive and bond closely to their human caretakers. A tortoise shell is a very complex system of over 60 interconnected bones. The shell does not cover the tortoise, the shell is a part of the tortoise. These animals make a hissing noise as the head is retracted into the shell, this releases all of the oxygen from their lungs and they can hold their breath for up to 2 hours. This gives them a great defense from a wide variety of predators. As we noticed in this female Greek tortoise’s injuries, something must have chewed on her, but her shell kept her well protected.

Please always be on the lookout for any sick, injured or sometimes just out-of-place wildlife in San Francisco. Get in contact with our dispatch at 415-554-9400 and we will ask you a few questions about what you are seeing to help us determine the care needed for each situation. Thank you for helping us care for the many animals of San Francisco.