Oakland’s United States Postal Service (USPS) hired Ernesto Pulido’s tree-trimming company to trim some of the ficus trees that are planted next to the USPS parking lot because there were too many bird droppings on the USPS trucks.
The Oakland Chainsaw Massacre
During the tree cleanup, five baby Black-crowned Night Herons — which are a federally protected species — fell from the trees and were injured. As reported in the New York Times, when one witness, Cat Callaway, who also happens to be a landscaper from the area, saw the “cherry picker, a wood chipper and newborn herons on the ground,” she felt “distraught.” She recorded the events and contacted wildlife and police authorities.
A wildlife conservationist, Lisa Owens Viani, eventually arrived on the scene where several adult herons were circling up above and “screaming in distress.” Prepared with towels and pet carriers, Viani managed to collect the herons and deliver them to a wildlife rehabilitation center for medical attention.
While all of the birds had scrapes and bruises, their conditions could’ve been a lot more grave. The most serious heron injury was a fractured mandible that required surgery. A spokesperson for the International Bird Rescue expressed that the birds were expected to make full and speedy recoveries.
Thanks to the care of the rescue teams and to Ernesto Pulido’s financial support, that’s exactly what happened. As reported in CBS San Francisco, since it would’ve been too hard to try to reunite the young birds with their original colony, on June 7, the baby birds were released back to the wild in East Bay marsh land. (It’s all-around good news for California’s wild birds since the Long Beach brown pelican has also made a full recovery and was released!)
The Talons Came Out in Oakland
Oakland itself needs to recover from the incident. While the focus of this piece has been on the birds, the story also gave us a view of the human problems in Oakland.
First, Ernesto Pulido, the owner of the tree-trimming company, was in deep boiling water over the bird injuries, especially because of the first (and untrue) reports; witnesses believed that Pulido and his crew had thrown the rare birds into the wood chipper, earning the case the “Oakland Chainsaw Massacre” moniker. Because of Pulido’s Mexican background, racist and xenophobic blog posts surely followed.
However, mean blog posts were the least of Pulido’s worries. The federal protection status of the birds meant that Pulido was under federal investigation. If convicted, Pulido was looking at up to a $15,000 fine and six months in jail. As reported in the New York Times, Pulido’s witch-hunt forced him to move his pregnant wife and daughter because of the violent threats that he received (here we go, again, with counterproductive and unnecessary threats).
Pulido’s background made him an easy scapegoat. Very few questioned why the finger of blame was never partially pointed at the USPS.
The New York Times also reported how some Oakland residents felt that the heron situation was overshadowing other pressing issues, like the city’s changing make-up and rampant gentrification. Some felt that too many cared too much about the five baby herons’ welfare and care too little about the welfare of Oakland’s substantial human homeless population.
Let’s hope that Oakland can rehabilitate itself after this story that started with bird poop. It wasn’t a good situation for the birds or the humans involved. If you’d like to see that an unfortunate situation like this never happens again, then sign and share this petition to demand justice for the five baby herons and their colony.
Photo Credit: Ingrid Taylar