Thanks to the andquot;Rite Aid Owl,andquot; many of us in town are more than usually aware of the wild birds with whom we share space. However, it seems that most people are unaware that almost all of the birds you're ever likely to see are protected under one or more federal laws.

Just as hunters are limited to hunting only certain birds and by bag laws, birders, hikers and others are not permitted to disturb or harass birds. As I write this, I'm in the process of trying to capture a young, inexperienced pelican that has wandered up the Smith River in search of food. Unfortunately, for every person who has offered it a fish, there seem to be two who have thrown rocks at it. An attempt to catch the pelican earlier today failed, at least in part due to such harassment. This young bird is starving and weak, and it sure doesn't need people throwing rocks at it.

Among the 1,043 bird species naturally occurring in the U.S. and its possessions, 868 species (83 percent) are protected by the Migratory Species Act, 75 species or subspecies (9 percent) are protected in all or a portion of their range by the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C.1531), and 43 species (5 percent) are protected by both laws.

Under the Migratory Species Act, the maximum criminal penalty for an individual violating the Act is a $5,000 fine and a six-month jail term for each count (18 U.S.C.571; 16 U.S.C. 707). Violators of the Endangered Species Act are subject to fines of up to $100,000 and one year's imprisonment. Organizations found in violation may be fined up to $200,000. Vehicles and equipment used in violations may be subject to forfeiture.

Individuals providing information leading to a civil penalty or criminal conviction may be eligible for cash rewards. A violation would be andquot;to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collectandquot; (50 CFR 10.12). This includes undue disturbance or harassment.

The provisions of the Act are nearly absolute; andquot;except as permitted by regulationsandquot; is the only exception. Examples of permitted actions that do not violate the law are the possession of a hunting license to pursue specific gamebirds, legitimate research activities, bird-banding, and similar activities.

If a citizen finds a bird that is injured or ill, he or she can capture the bird if it can be done without endangering either the person or the bird. If you are way out on an ocean beach or deep in the woods, if the bird may leave the area or is at risk from cars or pedestrians, it's a good idea to attempt a carefully thought out capture. You are then legally bound to transfer the bird to a vet or avian rehabilitator as quickly as possible (within 24 hours).

Most birds will quiet down immediately if their eyes are covered by a blanket or jacket. You can then get control the head and body (in that order). Never hold a bird higher than your hip (well away from face and eyes), and always control the head (gently!). I always carry an empty pillowcase with me when I walk, especially on the beaches. Place the bird in a box (for small birds, even a paper bag will do) and put it in a semi-dark, warm and quiet place. DO NOT attempt to feed it or give it water. Don't put newsprint in a box that houses a seabird (it will contaminate their waterproofing and prevent release); use a smooth blanket or cloth to line the box if you canbut not loopy terrybirds' toes or talons can become entangled in terry.

Immediately attempt to contact a local rehabilitator (between Gold Beach, Ore., and Klamath, that's going to be mePat Grady of Flight Feathers Wild Bird Rescue464-5942. South of Klamath, contact Humboldt Wildlife Care Center at (707) 822-8839. You can get my number from the North Coast Marine Mammal Center, the Crescent City police, Sheriff's Department, or most of the local vets and motels.

Please report any unusual behavior by a bird as soon as possible: don't let several days go by. It can mean the difference between life and death. I cover a large territory as the only federally permitted avian rehabber in Del Norte County, and I deeply appreciate all the concerned citizens who have taken the time to bring me more than a thousand birds over the years. But if you don't want to help, please, just leave 'em alone!

Pat Grady is a local resident with Flight Feathers Wild Bird Rescue.