Minimizing Wildlife Conflict: A Conversation with Monte Merrick, Director of the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center/Bird Ally X | Lost Coast Outpost



Common Loon, currently supported, found at Prairie Creek. Photos: Laura Corsiglia/BirdAllyX

Life here in the redwoods is an experience like no other. This ancient rainforest that we call home is home to an abundant variety of wildlife that also call this place home. And while our closeness to nature and all its splendor can be a blessing, more and more animals are showing up at the doors of the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. The Care Center, located in Bayside, functions as a wildlife rehabilitation center for injured and sick animals that are on the verge of death, providing them with a lifeline whenever possible. The main culprit for their appearance there? We.

I sat down with Monte Merrick from the Care Center to get some insight into what we can do as a community to prevent more patients from being admitted, as well as practical measures we can use at home to minimize conflict. between us and our furry and feathered neighbours. .

The most common species that end up at the care center are raccoons, mallards (ducks), opossums, and, as Monte put it, “…a large, diverse group that we’ll just call songbirds.” So why do all these animals appear here? Well, the short answer is us, but it’s a bit more complex than that.

“The most frustrating part of this job is the patients that we just don’t know why they’re here,” Monte says. “The person finds them, knows nothing about them, and we guess based on where they are and what’s around them what happened to them.” For patients we know what happened to them, roadside collisions are certainly the most common reason for admission. However, for songbirds, outdoor cats take the cake.

Every outdoor cat owner I’ve met has had countless stories of their pet bringing birds and small mammals into their homes, dead or alive, and while your cat means no harm in that , it’s always boring when you try to watch TV. and now you have to chase a rat around your house for 45 minutes and chase it out the front door with a broomstick. A paper published in 2013 estimated that free-ranging (outdoor) domestic cats kill between 1.3 and 4 billion birds per year and between 6.3 and 22.3 billion small mammals (Loss et al. 2012 ). Outdoor cats have quite a reputation around the world for being cute little extinction machines, having been the main reason for 63 species extinction events worldwide and 26% of all bird extinctions. , mammals and reptiles.

The most effective tool to combat this? Keep your cat indoors.

Now, the main reason most people leave their cats outside is because they love them and argue that it’s cruel to keep them indoors all their lives. “My main reason for keeping my cats indoors is because I love my cats,” Monte explains. “I lost my first cat when I was 7 to a car. [hitting her], you know? She came crawling out the back porch with her back half crushed…and then there’s cat fighting, which spreads feline leukemia, one of which I lost to my outdoor cats. And then there are other predators like coyotes and bobcats, which also hunt them.

According to the Humane Society, the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is between 2 and 5 years, while the average lifespan of an indoor cat is around 10 to 15 years. It really depends on your cat’s well-being, and having them outside without your supervision is not only a threat to themselves, but also to local wildlife. I asked Monte if protective measures like bibs and bells on cats’ collars had any effect in preventing them from catching birds and mammals, and he said, “There may be some decrease… but basically, no. Plus they don’t do anything for coyotes and cars, that’s for sure.

If these reasons still aren’t compelling enough to keep your cat indoors, there are always safe ways to get your feline friend vitamin D. Generally reserved for dogs, cats do very well on a leash in some cases, and it protects them. and out of trouble. If your cat is not a fan of the leash, there is always a solution for him too! Catios, or patios for your cat, are a hot new trend for those who want to allow their pet access to the outdoors without the threat of killing animals or themselves. Although time-consuming and a little more expensive than a leash, this method is a great way to provide your cat with the enrichment it needs without worrying about bringing home a new “gift”.

Spring is here! Which means bird nests will soon appear out of nowhere on your porch or under the eaves of your house, leaving another pile of bird poop in its wake. It is important to note that active nests are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and while it is morally wrong to destroy an active bird’s nest, it is also an international crime. What isn’t a crime is catching him before he gets busy.

“If you have birds that you think are starting to build a nest, now is the time to stop them from doing so,” Monte tells me. “So things like swallows building a mud nest under your eaves; if you don’t want to, you have to talk them out of it now, but to do that, you have to do it in a way that doesn’t threaten their lives. Putting mosquito nets under your eaves works great. Screening, like the ones used on your windows, is strong enough, cheap enough, and has small enough holes to keep them out.

Skunks and raccoons love
den under houses, and from their point of view, that makes sense. “They’re just looking for a safe [dry] place for their babies when they have to go out and do things [find food]. For raccoons it’s very common for them to set up a den behind your bathtub, and you don’t even know how they got there because they can squeeze through small openings and crawl spaces, that’s a really good place for them. First of all, who’s going to follow them in there? Nobody. And damn it [the bathtub] even gets hot from time to time! Monte says. He goes on to tell me, “People call us and say, ‘we think we hear something under the house, and there’s noise coming from under the tub.’ It’s like, I KNOW it’s gonna be a raccoon. That’s actually one of the reasons I have such admiration for them; their ability to MacGyver their world using our stuff.

While people like Monte and I love raccoons, that love can quickly turn to hate when they start damaging your property, and nobody likes that. I asked him what methods he would employ to discourage raccoons from settling in or under your house. Of course, not everyone lives in a home with pre-built foundations and fenders to keep animals from burrowing under or into your home, so things like caravans and apartment complexes are a bit delicate. He tells me, “You can make things like hardware cloth that attaches to the side of your house and then dig about 18 inches deep and about a foot out so they don’t dig underneath and do not penetrate under your house… There are expenses and work to be done, but it is effective.



Bald eagle brought to the care center in December 2021 with signs of electrocution by transmission lines. Rescuers attempted to save the bird by sending it to another facility, but the injuries were too severe and euthanasia was the result.

Deer grazing on your landscaping can be frustrating, and your hard work to keep your garden beautiful can quickly vanish in days if your defenses aren’t there. I asked how can someone keep deer from tearing up their garden, Monte says “There is a fence, which is the first thing to do, but you have to be very careful because it also becomes a terrible tangle for the deer. birds, and not just songbirds but also raptors. I removed a lot of raptors from deer fences to hunt them after songbirds in shrubbery. But a good fence that is visible and far enough away from the plants is really the most effective way.

Finding out about an injured bird can be daunting, and knowing what to do at the time can mean life or death for it. I ask Monte what someone should do if an injured bird is found. He said to me, “For songbirds, the first thing to do is try to capture them and put them in a safe place like a shoebox. For raptors and other birds that can hurt you, that’s another story. If you are unsure of your ability to capture them safely, give us a call and we can guide you safely using equipment around your home to pick them up, or we can send someone there to do it for you. In the end pick them up [safely] and bringing them to us is the best thing to do.

It is also important to note that depending on the time of year, some young [baby] songbirds don’t need help if you find them on the ground. It’s common for birds like sparrows to spend time on the ground while they’re learning to fly, so calling the care center and telling them the situation can save you time and worry for their well-being. “If you’re not sure, the best thing to do is give us a call,” says Monte.

Raccoons and rats are a common problem for homeowners who keep having them dig through their trash and compost. Although it sounds like a lot of work, protecting your trash cans and compost bins from predators can actually be done quite easily.

“We [at the Care Center] use hardware cloth on our compost, which is just wire mesh with half-inch spacing,” Monte explains. “We use it because it’s basically the best way to keep rats out, and has the added benefit of keeping larger species like raccoons out as well.”

Coating the base and sides with hardware cloth over your compost makes it almost 100% effective against all animals. For trash cans, placing something heavy on top can prevent raccoons from accessing your trash. But if all else fails, installing a latch on the rim of the trash can and attaching a padlock to it will still work to keep unwanted pandas out.

If you or someone you know would like to volunteer or donate to the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center to help these dedicated wildlife rehabilitators and what they do for our community, you can go to www.BirdAllyX.net, To send an email [email protected]or call (707) 822-8839 for information.

I would like to thank Monte Merrick for participating in this interview and all the staff and volunteers at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center for what they do for all animals in and around Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity and North counties from Mendocino.

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Hunter Perez is a senior wildlife management and conservation student at Cal Poly Humboldt.

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