Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Archive for February 2008

February 26, 2008

NOAA looking for more Beach Watch volunteers

NOAA’s Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is now recruiting volunteers for its Beach Watch shoreline monitoring program, which played a key role in the response to the November 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill. Orientations and training will be held beginning this spring at several San Francisco Bay Area locations.

Orientation spaces are limited, and reservations are required. Volunteers must be 18 or older and commit to monthly surveys for a one-year minimum. Approximately 80 hours of classroom and field training in marine mammal and seabird identification and data collection is provided; some wildlife identification skills are desirable. Orientation sessions will be held the following dates in March:

• Tuesday, March 4, 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., sanctuary office, 991 Marine Drive, San Francisco Presidio
• Thursday, March 6, 7:00 to 8:30p.m., Point Montara Lighthouse, Montara
• Saturday, March 8, 10:30 a.m. to noon, sanctuary office, 991 Marine Drive, San Francisco Presidio
• Sunday, March 9, 10:30 a.m. to noon, Bldg. 1050, Marin Headlands, Sausalito

Mandatory training sessions will take place in April and May on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturdays at the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary offices, 991 Marine Drive, West Crissy Field in the San Francisco Presidio. Several field trips are included in the training.

Complete info on NOAA’s website

February 25, 2008

High court hears Exxon Valdez oil spill suit

Nearly 14 years after Exxon was ordered to pay $5 billion dollars because of the damages done to people and their livelyhood during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the nation’s top court is scheduled to hear the final appeal this week.

The U.S. Supreme Court will listen to arguments this coming Wednesday from the 1994 judgment that awarded residents and fishermen the huge award. The award has been reviewed three times by a district judge and twice by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco. In December 2006, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its final ruling, setting the punitive damages award at $2.5 billion.

In the meantime, 20% of the more than 30,000 fishermen, Native Alaskans, cannery workers and others who triumphed in the Anchorage, Alaska court that day in 1994 are now dead.

Following the 1989 oil spill, more than 11 million gallons spilled. An estimated 300 bald eagles died and another 200,000 common murres perished. Scores of other whales, otters, salmon and invertebrates also died in the aftermath of the spill that hit Prince William Sound and the surrounding areas.

Members of IBRRC’s response team spent nearly six months in Alaska helping care for oiled birds in the spill. See IBRRC report

Read more on the MSNBC website

Also read, plantiff’s law firm discussion of the case

February 20, 2008

Pelicans to come off endangered species list

After 40 years of being on the precipice of extinction the Brown Pelican is poised to be removed from the national endangered species list, according to recent announcement by the U.S. Interior Department. See: Los Angeles Times report

The pelicans were put on the endangered species list after the use of the pesticide DDT caused catastrophic reproductive failure in the late 1960s. The pesticide affected pelican eggs and the reproductive health on these majestic birds. When DDT was finally banned in 1972, the pelican population slowly made a rebound. Now at least 70,000 breeding pairs of pelicans now live in California and Baja California.

IBRRC treats hundreds of sick and injured pelicans each year at its two bird centers in California. Most recently, pelicans have been affected by domoic acid or algae bloom outbreaks along the California coast. And fishing line injuries continue to rise as man encroaches on more of this birds’ habitat.

The legacy of DDT is still with us. Scientific studies say that the ocean floor off the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Southern California remains highly contaminated by the pesticide. The Montrose Chemical Company, a Torrance manufacturer of DDT, dumped pesticide laden wastewater into storm drains from 1947 to 1983. An estimated 1,700 tons of DDT made its way to the Pacific Ocean. DDT settled on the ocean floor and the EPA is still dealing with the issue. Since 1985, fish consumption advisories and health warnings have been posted in this area because of elevated DDT and PCB levels. Bottom-feeding fish are particularly at risk for high contamination levels

Read more reports on the EPA website: Palos Verdes Shelf DDT information.

February 20, 2008

Planting fish eggs to monitor oil spill

Scientists from Bodega Marine Lab are planting herring eggs this week in parts of San Francisco Bay to monitor the affects on fish from the November 2007 bunker fuel spill.

The eggs are being placed in areas hard hit by the spill: Richardson Bay, Horseshoe Cove near Fort Baker and the north side of Angel Island. The eggs will be studied to see what sort of pollution shows up in the embryos.

The spill dumped over 50,000 gallons of the toxic crude into the San Francisco Bay four months ago when the Cosco Busan container ship struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in heavy fog. Only 44% of the oil has been recovered. At least 2,500 birds died in the spill.

See: Marin IJ story: Herring roe will help judge spill’s impact

February 15, 2008

Avian Cholera may be cause of bird deaths

The recent rash of bird deaths in Richardson Bay may be avian cholera. The first necrospy done on three birds showed that one bird died of this highly contagious bacteria. The disease is commonly transmitted through contact with secretions or feces of infected birds or the ingestion of food or water containing the bacteria.

According to the California Fish and Games website: “Avian cholera (not related to human cholera) is a common disease of North American waterfowl and results from infection with the bacterium Pasturella multocida. It spreads rapidly from bird-to-bird and can kill thousands of birds in a single incident. A bird infected with avian cholera dies quickly. Avian cholera die-offs in waterfowl commonly occur during the winter months in California, especially during cold spells and fog.”

At least 235 birds were picked up dead over the past two weeks. The spike was blamed on two recent sewage spills into the bay. At least 5 million gallons of partially treated human waste was dumped from the Marin County area. Scientists believe that the spill may have contributed to the rise of avian cholera. More tests on some of the other dead birds will help researchers determine the true cause.

See the San Francisco Chronicle story: Cholera killed bird found in Richardson Bay

February 14, 2008

Who shot this goose at Vacaville Lagoon?

A domestic goose, shot through the head with a dart at the Vacaville Lagoon, is now in care at International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) in Cordelia.

On February 9 the center received calls from the public that the bird was injured and in need of help. Animal control was notified but they could not find the victim. Then on Sunday, February 10, a rescue team from IBRRC was able to capture the bird.

IBRRC is appealing to the public for information that might lead to the arrest of the person responsible for this senseless crime. Animal cruelty is a felony in California. According to animal control this is the second bird at the lagoon shot with a dart.

See more of the story on the IBRRC website

February 14, 2008

Mystery spill hits Southern California coastline

More than 80 oiled birds, mainly Western Grebes and Clark’s Grebe, have been collected over the past two weeks along the Southern California coastline after a mysterious oil spill hit the Pt. Magu area about 60 miles north of Los Angeles. 12 birds have already been cleaned of oil and been released.

The oiled birds are being found from Santa Barbara south as far as San Clemente beaches in southern Orange County. IBRRC was activated as part of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN). All the affected birds are being treated at the San Pedro Bird Center which is also know as the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center (LAOBCEC).

Birds were first spotted at the Pt. Magu lagoon next to the Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station in Ventura County. OWCN team members worked together to capture, stabilize, and transport birds to San Pedro.

February 13, 2008

What’s killing the birds in Richardson Bay?

At least 160 birds have turned up dead along the shores in Richardson Bay near Tiburon and UC Davis scientists are expected to report this week on what caused the deaths.

The birds certainly could have been affected by two recent sewage spills in Marin County that dumped nearly 5.5 million gallons of partially treated sewage into the northern part of San Francisco Bay. Those spills occurred on January 26 and 31. The birds started appearing shortly thereafter.


The Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Tiburon reported an unusual number of dead birds following the spills. There was also speculation that these birds could have also been suffering from remnants of the Cosco Busan oil spill that hit the bay on November 7, 2007.

Media reports:

Alarming spike in Richardson Bay bird deaths, San Francisco Chronicle

Necropsy Results On Dead Birds Due This Week, NBC-TV 11

Bird toll mounts on Richardson Bay, Marin IJ

February 13, 2008

Beautiful video of Frigatebird release

Marie Travers of IBRRC’s Northern California bird center pointed me to a really beautiful video of the Frigatebird released on Catalina Island in Southern California.

More press on the release:

San Francisco Chronicle

The Vacaville Reporter

Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Vallejo Times Herald

February 7, 2008

Successful Frigatebird release at Catalina Island

Without much fanfare, the juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird that was found in Sonoma County last month and then came to IBRRC with a lot of interest by birders and the media was successfully released Tuesday, February 5 on the cliffs at the backside of Santa Catalina Island.

Marie Travers, IBRRC’s Assistant Rehabilitation Manager at IBRRC’s Cordelia rehabilitation center said that the release, “Could not have gone any better”. Which was a relief for all who have taken care of the bird for the last month. The bird flew out of its cage and circled in the air for a long time, eventually flying away.

Why was the release so secretive? This was somewhat intentional for the sole reason that with pelagic birds such as Frigatebirds, Albatrosses and Boobies we are always cautious about how they will react when released and we have had birds crash, get confused, sit on small rocks to incubate them and so on and we have had to bring birds back to the center until they could get their bearings.

We really did not feel we could schedule a press event with the logistical challenges we had in getting the bird to Southern California, out on a boat (26 miles off the coastline) and to a spot where the winds would help it take off, in between storms and so on. We also felt that it was important to give the bird the best opportunity to get back into its intended environment (the open ocean but from land in case there was a problem) without the immediate challenge of fighting a storm or strong winds.

The warmer climate of Southern California and the lesser risk of a storm played heavily in our decision to release the bird in the best place possible for its reintroduction back into the wild. We also had to coordinate this release between oil spills and our heavy winter bird loads at both centers.

We never did discover why the bird was so skinny and weak when it was found in a tree in Sonoma. That has been a concern to us as the bird could have some ongoing issue that we don’t know about that prevented it from eating and as a rehabilitator we always look for clues as to “why” the bird was starving. Not just that it was starving. But, our staff, who I cannot praise enough, literally nursed the bird back to health and the fact that once it gained a bit of strength and then rapidly improved suggested that something had prevented the bird from eating, therefore coming in in a weak state. We have seen this with birds that had fishing hooks and line in or on them or birds that were kept in cages for long periods of time and they released but were too weak to care for themselves. Certainly something caused its starvation and we ruled out disease and other health issues after examining the bird and taking blood and fecal samples. So, it will always be a mystery as to why this bird showed up weak and confused on a tree in Sonoma. It did pass its release evaluation with means that it has perfect blood parameters, perfect waterproofing, had the ability to fly as it took short flights around its cage in Cordelia, was bright alert and aggressive (no problem there) and it had gained all its weight back.

As Marie and Monte, who had cared for and forced fed the bird daily, said to me last Thursday when I returned from an oil spill in Argentina, “this bird is ready to go ” implying that it has become aggressive and was as equally done with us as our staff was with it. Often birds that are ready to return to the wild and have completed their rehabilitation let you know in not so subtle ways like biting, flying intensively and so on. So, for all intents and purposes it was back to “normal” and we made arrangements for its release.

I want to thank everyone involved in the rehabilitation of this bird, from capture to release, for your patience with us and your interest in the bird and in IBRRC. We have had an unprecedented 3 months of oil spills, heavy influx of birds due to the storms and other factors and we are already over 200 bird intakes in our center in Cordelia this year. Last year we hit that number in late March so you can see we have been busy. We are also rehabilitating over 35 oiled western grebes at our center in San Pedro as I write this. These birds are oiled from natural seep oil along the coast that was assumed stirred up by the recent storms in the area. I also must take this opportunity to say to all of you reading this that, as our Media Relations Specialist, Karen Benzel, puts it, “these birds do not come in with credit cards or a bank account”. Their care is funded by donations to IBRRC and that is the bottom line. We cannot do this work without public support.

The bird has been banded and if we ever hear back about it we will inform everyone. Lets hope we never hear from it again. We are working to keep everyone abreast of our work throughout the year, invite people on interesting releases and open the center up a bit more for visitations by birding and other groups who are interested in seeing our work and the birds close up.

I am a birder myself and I love watching the more fortunate ones in the wild but I know the value of what IBRRC brings by rehabilitating wild birds that often are here because of something a human or humans have done to cause it injury or displacement. Over 80% of our patients are victims of us, humans. I want to be honest and public about my goal of having all birders become members of IBRRC and other rehabilitation organizations in your area. For an annual basic membership of $25 you can greatly contribute to the birds that you and I enjoy watching in their natural environment and I encourage you to do this. It also gives us income that we can rely on to do this work. The Frigatebird alone cost the center over $1,500 to care for and all contributions are appreciated. Membership information

Jay Holcomb, IBRRC’s Executive Director