Baby Birds Fed into Wood Chipper

5 herons rescued, at least one dead

Incompetence on the part of a landscaping company put a family of herons in critical condition.

Incompetence on the part of a landscaping company put a colony of herons in critical condition.     Photo: Fernando Flores/Flickr

Out of negligence or malice, five federally protected black-crowned night herons nesting above an Oakland post office experienced eviction and treatment worse than that of junk mail.

In response to birds defecating on mail trucks, the Civic Center Annex Oakland Post Office hired Campos Greenview Tree Service to remove overgrown branches above the facilities. The branches were fed into a wood chipper—along with at least six one- to three-week-old birds.

Landscaping supervisor Joe Campos insists the crew had no knowledge of the birds, barely more mobile than rag dolls, which were mangled in the wood chipper and plummeted more than 25 feet to the ground.

"They were new. It'll never happen again," Campos said in an interview with SFGate. "It's a big deal, though—we don't want to destroy anything."

Photographs show at least one dead baby heron dangling from a branch. Police arrived on the scene and stopped the bloodshed after neighbors began protesting outside the post office, which deeply regrets the incident and is pursuing damage control lamer than the evicted birds.

"I can certainly understand why people are upset," said Postal Service spokesperson Augustine Ruiz. "The post office would never do anything to hurt wildlife. In fact, we issue stamps to protect birds. This is very unfortunate."

Conservationists like Lisa Owens Viani, director of Raptors Are the Solution, managed to collect five baby birds from the scene. The survivors—which suffered injuries ranging from scrapes to ruptured air sacs to a beak mangling that required surgery—are recuperating at International Bird Rescue in Fairfield.

"It was awful," Viani said. "It's especially appalling because these birds are so vulnerable and such a valuable part of the ecosystem."

At less than two pounds fully grown, black-crowned night herons are the second most populous heron in the continent, living in the shadow of the better-known great blue heron. These birds are far from endangered and are sometimes considered threatening to other species, but Oakland has enjoyed the herons’ presence since the birds arrived in town a few years ago after construction projects and competing bird populations pushed them from other habitats.

Even if the community hadn't taken to the herons, killing nesting migratory birds is a misdemeanor under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. According to Steve Martarano, U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman, the act stipulates $2,000 fines per animal and up to six months in jail.  

Martarano's California equivalent, Andrew Hughan, said both USFW and California Fish and Wildlife officials are investigating the matter.

"If we decide to pursue this matter, it would most likely be criminal and go through a district attorney," Hughan said.

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