Gull chicks on the road to recovery after rescue in downtown Kingston

Two ring-billed gull chicks bundled up, as per instructions from Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre, while en route to the Centre on the afternoon of Thursday, Jun. 29, 2023. Photo by Ally Buck.

Editorial note: Updated information available at bottom of article.

Two juvenile gulls, injured and abandoned in an overhang on a downtown Kingston building, are now in a much safer place thanks to members of the community coming together.

On Thursday, Jun. 29, 2023, employees working within the LaSalle Mews had reached their wit’s end after watching one of the despairing chicks attempt to raise the alarm to the humans on the other side of a third-floor windowpane. There, three ring-billed gull chicks were stranded and had been for days, presumedly abandoned, according to those who work in the building, and were perched on the ledge precariously, exposed to the increasingly hot sun. One of the birds had sadly died, Katherine Bowyer reported in a post to a private Facebook group for the McBurney Park neighbourhood nearby. But from there, it just got sadder, she explained.

“We are in desperate need for someone brave enough to go up on a ladder at the La Salle Mews building and rescue two fledglings,” she wrote in the post, noting that the gulls had seemingly fallen from a nest on the fifth-floor roof.

“One died, one has a broken leg, and the other keeps coming to the window when humans get off the elevator and then goes and lays down against the dead sibling.”

Bowyer went on to explain that, while there is an exterior ladder on the building that reaches the overhang where the young birds were stranded, no one wanted to risk attempting to get them without the proper protection for fear they might be dive-bombed by one of the birds’ parents, who “don’t seem to be able to get these other two to figure out what to do (fly).” She pleaded for someone who might be able to better protect themselves to come to the rescue, as she was getting little to no response from those she’d reached out to.

“It’s heartbreaking to watch,” she said, hoping that a “brave Samaritan” would answer the call for help.

Within three minutes, another member of the group posted, using humour to break the tension for those so clearly upset.

“I’m likely too chunky and clumsy to do any rescuing but I can provide a bike helmet and leather gloves and another ladder if needed. I can also provide a soft cat carrier for the babies to be transported in (not my first rodeo with rescuing birds),” wrote Ally Buck who, seconds later, changed her mind.

“Actually, screw it, if there’s a ladder to the [overhang], I’ll ride my bike over now and suit up and wear my [scuba diving goggles] to protect my eyes,” she wrote.

Moments later, Bowyers responded to Buck to say she’d reached the fire department who indicated a crew was on their way. But Buck was already en route, as well, and arrived at the downtown building around the same time firefighters did.

For their part, Kingston Fire & Rescue (KFR) confirmed they received a call about the baby gulls.

The west side of the LaSalle Mews on Bagot Street, which also has an entrance off of Princess Street. Photo via Queen’s Legal Clinic.

“On Thursday, June 29, at 11:30 a.m., KFR responded Code 2 (no lights and sirens) to the 300 block of Bagot Street to the report of birds trapped on a window ledge. Two seagulls were stuck on a third-storey ledge, one with a broken wing and one with a broken leg,” the fire department said in response to Kingstonist inquiries on that date.

When at the scene, firefighters used the aerial device on a ladder truck to reach the second-storey roof, then extended a 24-foot ground ladder to access the third-floor overhang, according to KFR. They were able to retrieve the vulnerable chicks and, once they’d stowed their ladders, handed them over to the relieved workers who’d called them in.

“KFR often rescues animals during fires in structures as part of our search and rescue operations. Other animal rescues are occasionally performed on a case-by-case basis depending upon the circumstances and any risks involved,” Fire Inspector Delbert Blakney relayed after the events.

“Most animal rescues are performed to ensure that members of the community do not become trapped or injured attempting to perform rescues without the property safety equipment and training. It certainly feels rewarding when we’re able to assist.”

As for Bowyers and Buck, both expressed gratitude for the many people who volunteered to help out online, and all of those who came together to ensure the injured birds got the attention they needed.

“They’re on their way to Sandy Pines after I got them all set up in the box with a warm water bottle, water to drink, and water to mist them with!” Buck wrote on the Facebook post.

“My husband had our car at work, so I hopped on my bike and hauled ass to the birds! I love animals so much and once I read it was days of trying to help, I knew if I didn’t help they would die,” she later told Kingstonist, noting she was happy to do anything to help wildlife and remind others of the importance of looking out for the other creatures we share our space with — though she thinks it may have been a funny scene had she scaled the building in a bike helmet and goggles

“I work in a treatment program, and it was very stressful for everyone in the building, but especially for those suffering from trauma,” Bowyer said in response to Kingstonist inquiries.

“They will all be relieved, and it will help restore hope in human kindness,” she said.

On Friday, Jun. 30, 2023, Sue Meech, Director of Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre, confirmed that the chicks had arrived at their facility, noting their “injuries [are] critical but not life threatening.”

“They’re doing well,” she said.

Following up with Sandy Pines on the morning of Tuesday, Jul. 4, 2023, Kelly Fraser, Administrative Director of the Wildlife Centre responded with an update.

An adult ring-billed gull perched on a rock. Photo by Kevin Cress.

“I am happy to report that the juvenile gulls are doing well!!” she wrote in an email to Kingstonist.

Fraser clarified that the fledglings are, in fact, ring-billed gulls, which are one of 50 species of gulls, many of which are often referred to as “seagulls,” according to the National Audubon Society.

Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre is the largest and one of the only wildlife rehabilitation centres in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) region, and helps care for approximately 5,000 animals in need each year. As Fraser explained, it’s about this time annually that the non-profit organization sees the importance of the support they receive from the local community by way of the traffic of ill or injured animals through the Wildlife Centre reaching its peak – an average of 400 animals helped per day.

“This is the time of year that we see an increased number of admissions and we are working around the clock to care for injured and orphaned wildlife,” she shared.

As such, those who want to help out the agency in their efforts would be greatly appreciated, Fraser conveyed. Donations can be made through Canada Helps on the Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre website, by e-transfer to [email protected], by cheque or other means at their office, located at 8749 County Road 2 in Napanee from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Sandy Pines also holds a 50/50 draw monthly, and tickets can be purchased online or at the Centre.

“We can always use donations of fresh fruits (raspberries, grapes, blueberries, melon, bananas etc.) or vegetables (broccoli, spring mix, carrots, romaine, etc.),” Fraser added. “Thank you very much for helping our wildlife!!”

Update (Wednesday, Jul. 5, 2023 at 4:50 p.m.):

The team at Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre has provided an update on the condition of the two gull fledglings rescued in Kingston last week. According to Caleigh Beckett, an Avian Team Lead with Sandy Pines, “The one slightly larger one is doing amazingly, is off of medication and eating well. The one with the leg injury has progressed loads and is eating well, but is still on pain management at this time.”

“Overall both have improved greatly since intake!” Beckett shared.

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