Threatened shorebirds improve with new incubators and aviary at Huntington wildlife center


The Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach is seeing positive results with new equipment for a program designed to nurse abandoned western snowy plover eggs and release the birds into nature once hatched, officials say.

The center bought two new Grumbach egg incubators and an outdoor aviary for western snowy plovers with $36,000 it received from a settlement agreement in late 2016 between Orange County Coastkeeper, a Costa Mesa-based environmental group, and Air Industries Co. of Garden Grove over stormwater pollution. The federal government classifies the small shorebirds as threatened because of loss of habitat and breeding sites caused by human activity and invasive non-native plants.

John Villa, the center’s executive director, said it has been collecting abandoned plover eggs since 2008 with subpar equipment but has seen improvement with the latest equipment.

John Villa, executive director of the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center, and shorebird species specialist Cheryl Egger discuss the center’s new incubators for western snowy plover eggs.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer )

Last year, center volunteers collected 18 viable eggs from the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. The eggs hatched and the snowy plovers were tagged and successfully released, officials said.

“These are precise instruments and they work perfectly,” said Cheryl Egger, the center’s shorebird species specialist. “We’re extremely happy to have it.”

The center currently is incubating six snowy plover eggs.

The larger incubator turns the eggs every two hours, just like a snowy plover mother would in a nest, Egger said. During the last four days before their expected hatching, the eggs are transferred to the other incubator, called the hatcher.

Once the chicks are about 20 days old, they’re placed in the aviary, Egger said. They’re released to the ecological reserve 35 days after they hatch.

To date, Egger said, 74 have been released by the volunteer-run program, which is funded largely by donations.

In addition to snowy plovers, the care center, which was completed in 1988, serves 4,500 injured and orphaned wild animals annually.

This incubator is among new equipment at the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center for caring for western snowy plover eggs and newly hatched birds.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer )

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