Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Archive for July 2008

July 30, 2008

Happy Babies: Cormorant video

Last month a handful of double-crested cormorant eggs were saved from nesting next to powerlines near the Dumbarton Bridge near Palo Alto, CA. After being rescued and rushed to IBRRC in Fairfield, five of them survived after hatching. They were raised by staff and kept wild.
You can see the babies in this video:

Michelle Bellizzi, IBRRC’s Rehabilitation Manager in Northern California says:

Because cormorants aren’t precocial like many other waterbirds, they required handfeeding for several weeks, and the risk of imprinting and/or habituation was fairly high. To keep them wild, we used a “Kormorant Kostume” and Cormorant puppet to feed them up to 6 times a day. They heard the soothing sounds of a cormorant colony (procured by a wonderful volunteer who visited the cormorant colony at Lake Merritt in Oakland) day and night to familiarize them with the natural sounds of their elders.

WildCare in Marin has graciously “lent” us their non-releasable education cormorants to serve as surrogates, so that the baby cormorants are able to see wild adult cormorants in action. The babies are currently in an aviary that mimics closely their natural habitat (without the power lines) – they’re in with birds that they usually nest around: pelicans, gulls, and other cormorants. We hope that they’re ready for release in mid/late August.

July 30, 2008

Rockhopper penguin: Before and after oiling

During the recent Syros oil spill in Argentina, we received these adorable photos of Rockhopper Penguins. On the left is a clean penguin and on the right is the Rockhopper waiting patiently for its cleaning bath (below).

Local rehabilitation teams organized by the joint efforts of IBRRC and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) worked the spill in Uraguay.

More than 14,000 cubic meters of fuel oil were spilled when two tankers collided 12 miles (20 km) from the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo. The Greek oil tanker Syros and Maltese-registered Sea Bird reportedly crashed into each other while trying to avoid a collision with a third vessel. The 24 mile-long spill drifted towards Buenos Aires and shortly after, oiled-covered birds began surfacing in Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina.

Yes, the oiled birds were cleaned in Dawn dishwashing liquid. We’ve found that Dawn cuts the oil from feathers without injuring the bird. IBRRC has been using donated Dawn product from Procter & Gamble for many years. See: Dark before Dawn

See an earlier post.

July 25, 2008

Sick and hungry pelicans flooding bird centers

It’s another busy summer season for the staff and volunteers at Bird Rescue as sick and starving young pelicans arrive for treatment at both California centers. Since June nearly 100 pelicans have been transferred to the bird rescue centers – one in San Pedro and the other in Fairfield, CA – to be given the best possible care.

Starting in May 2008 an overwhelming number of pelicans competed with fishermen for large quantities of schooling fish in Northern California – especially in the Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay areas. We began receiving an extraordinary influx of pelicans with entanglement, fish hook and tackle injuries. We were receiving 10-12 birds a day until California Fish and Game stepped in to close the local piers to fishing.

The influx of pelicans was taxing our centers, as the San Pedro facility was also receiving unusually large
numbers of pelicans in their clinic. Our fish bill alone climbed to nearly $40,000. To help defray the cost of caring for the pelicans, Bird Rescue is asking for the public’s help. Donate

You can also become a Pelican Partner. With a donation of $1,000, you will have the chance to tour one of our California wildlife centers and help to release one of our patients back into the wild. This experience offers supporters a special opportunity to see a seabird getting its final medical exam and numbered leg band, and the once-in-a-lifetime honor of opening the cage at the release site as your partner pelican takes its first steps into the open and soars away.

Luckily this year Bird Rescue completed construction of a new 100-foot pelican aviary at its Fairfield, CA bird center. The aviary allows pelicans to recuperate in large comfortable setting. It has two large pools and perches for the birds to fly back and forth to stretch their wings. The aviary was completed with funds from the Green Foundation and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN). The San Pedro center has had a pelican aviary since it opened in 2001.

How to help: Adopt-a-Pelican

More information on Pelicans in Peril

Found a bird? How to handle a sick or injured pelican or other aquatic birds.

July 24, 2008

Cosco Busan operator obstructed justice?

In the latest twist in the legal wrangling following the Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay, federal prosecutors accused the firm in charge of the container ship of falsifying documents to obstruct the investigation in the November 2007 event.

This week a federal grand jury in San Francisco indicted Fleet Management Ltd. of Hong Kong of six charges of making false statements and obstructing justice, the company was accused of two misdemeanor counts of criminal negligence for allegedly helping to cause the spill.

Read the San Francisco Chronicle story

The container ship struck the San Francisco Bay Bridge on a foggy morning on November 7, 2007. It caused widespread bird deaths on the bay and closed beaches along the bay and outside the bay along Marin and San Francisco County beaches. More than 420 birds were returned to the wild. At least 2,500 perished in the bunker crude spill.

Read about the Spill response from our perspective

July 19, 2008

More cleaned birds return to wild in Uruguay

Good news following last month’s oil spill in South America: 40 cleaned penguins returned to their ocean home today off the coast of Maldonado, Uruguay. A giant petrel was released earlier in the month.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Emergency Response Team and the local group SOCOBIOMA (Society for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Maldonado), led a coalition of NGOs tasked with this oiled wildlife response in South America.

All animals are tagged with IFAW bands, which will allow veterinarians and other specialists to monitor the animals after their release. ‘The information we receive on their condition, whereabouts, or even if they are stricken by another spill will let us continue our research into relevant conservation studies with these species’ said Valeria Ruoppolo of IFAW.

Seabirds are especially vulnerable to oiling. Losing their waterproofing abilities, penguins and other birds are forced out of the chilly waters in a state of hypothermia, leading to dehydration and starvation.

More than 14,000 cubic meters of fuel oil were spilled when two tankers collided 12 miles (20 km) from the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo. The Greek oil tanker Syros and Maltese-registered Sea Bird reportedly crashed into each other while trying to avoid a collision with a third vessel. The 24 mile-long spill drifted towards Buenos Aires and shortly after, oiled-covered birds began surfacing in Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina.

Other groups involved with the rescue of oiled birds affected by this spill include CRAM/MO-FURG (Center for the Recovery of Marine Animals) in Brazil, FMM (Fundacion Mundo Marino) and FPN (Fundacion Patagonia Natural) of Argentina.

‘This spill affected hundreds of birds around the region. Close to 150 Magellanic penguins, 4 Great grebes and 1 Giant petrel were cared for by IFAW and SOCOBIOMA alone. Due to the magnitude of this disaster, oiled penguins have surfaced in Brazil, where 56 Magellanic penguins are being rehabilitated by CRAM”, added Ruoppolo. ‘The 40 penguins that went back to the wild today were cleared for release after passing several physical requirements including blood tests, weight and body condition, waterproof feathers and other necessary characteristics we always take into consideration.’

IFAW’s Emergency Relief (ER) Team is managed cooperatively by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) which brings over 35 years of experience responding to oiled wildlife. The team is comprised of leaders in the field of wildlife rehabilitation, biology, veterinary medicine and management who are professionals from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, South Africa, UK and USA. In 2000 the team jointly led the response to the Treasure Oil Spill in Cape Town, South Africa, with Sanccob, which was the largest of its kind. This required a three-month operation involving 12,000 volunteers and ultimately of the 20,000 oiled African penguins, 90% were released back into the wild.

The IFAW ER Team has attended more than 25 major oil spill wildlife disasters around the world in recent years. IFAW’s ER team now has such experience that it is recognized as having a global presence that supersedes other oiled wildlife response organizations.

July 17, 2008

Getting the lead out: Birds still affected

The long-term affects of lead on birds and other animals is still leaving its mark. In a recent study released by the US Geological Survey, the evidence of lead fragments from ammunition is still wide spread. See the radiograph (right photo) in which an immature bald eagle shows numerous lead shot in its digestive tract.

The report is called “Lead Shot and Sinkers: Weighty Implications for Fish and Wildlife Health.” Here’s an excerpt:

“Science is replete with evidence that ingestion of spent ammunition and fishing tackle can kill birds,” Rattner said. “The magnitude of poisoning in some species such as waterfowl, eagles, California condors, swans and loons, is daunting. For this reason, on July 1, 2008, the state of California put restrictions on the use of lead ammunition in parts of the range of the endangered California condor because the element poses such a threat to this endangered species.” Lead poisoning causes behavioral, physiological, and biochemical effects, and often death. The rate of mortality is high enough to affect the populations of some wildlife species. Although fish ingest sinkers, jigs, and hooks, mortality in fish seems to be related to injury, blood loss, exposure to air and exhaustion rather than the lead toxicity that affects warm-blooded species.

Although lead from spent ammunition and lost fishing tackle is not readily released into aquatic and terrestrial systems, under some environmental conditions it can slowly dissolve and enter groundwater, making it potentially hazardous for plants, animals, and perhaps even people if it enters water bodies or is taken up in plant roots. For example, said Rattner, dissolved lead can result in lead contamination in groundwater near some shooting ranges and at heavily hunted sites, particularly those hunted year after year.

Research on lead poisoning related to spent ammunition and lost fishing tackle has been focused on bird species, with at least two studies indicating that the ban on the use of lead shot for hunting waterfowl in North America has been successful in reducing lead exposure in waterfowl, the report said. The authors found that upland game — such as doves and quail — and scavenging birds — such as vultures and eagles — continue to be exposed to lead shot, putting some populations (condors in particular) at risk of lead poisoning.

Read the full report on the USGS website

July 12, 2008

Testimony: Bird species continue to plummet

In a not so surprising story, the habitat for birds continues to dwindle as man encroaches more on the natural environment.

According to recent testimony to U.S. Congress by scientists, government officials and conservation groups, 20 common bird species have lost 68 percent of their populations in the past 40 years.

“A growing proportion of the landscape is occupied by humans,” said Wayne Thogmartin, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey, which measures bird populations. “A large part is irrevocably lost to birds. The question is what populations do we want to keep. If we want more, we need to find ways to create habitat.”

Read the San Francisco Chronicle story

July 9, 2008

Trona bird rescue project: Making a difference

From Jay Holcomb, IBRRC’s Executive Director:

Following journalist Susan Sward’s recent two-part series in the San Francisco Chronicle about worker’s health concerns at a Trona, CA chemical plant and the on-site bird deaths, I want to provide some background on IBRRC’s involvement in this important bird rescue project.

I’m happy that more information is finally coming out about the impact to migrating birds that land in the remote and expansive wastewater lakes at Searles Valley Minerals. Since 1999, IBRRC has worked with IMC Chemicals, now Searles Valley Minerals, to help reduce the impact of the plant’s effects on birds that mistakenly land in area lakes.

It has been rewarding but difficult, discouraging and extremely sad work for all those that have worked on the project. My reasons for taking on this project were three fold:

, I wanted to have IBRRC provide expert care for these birds and prove that they could be rehabilitated.

Secondly, it was my reasoning that if we maintained a presence at the site and documented everything about the area’s affect on birds, it could eventually lead to reasonable outcome and correct the chemical plant’s open lakes on the birds.

Thirdly, I wanted it to be known that IBRRC believes these animals are valuable and, although seemingly unimportant to many, are deserving of attention and care. It is the “attitude” behind their demise and the acceptance of the situation out there that I and IBRRC have been at war with. Although this project taxed IBRRC’s time and its staff greatly, we knew that it is only when we “show up” and demonstrate our commitment on a daily basis that things would eventually change.

To be honest, we were laughed at, sabotaged and even threatened in the early days of our involvement with IMC Chemicals. But that eventually gave way to reasonable work relationships with the employees of IMC Chemicals. The credit for much of this is due to the work of Mark Russell, IBRRC’s Trona Project Manager, who worked with IMC Chemicals to make sure that all the plant staff knew our goals and purpose for being involved.

IBRRC has never been in agreement with the “level of take” that California State Fish & Game has allowed the company to have when it came to these birds. I have always believed that this property can be managed in a way that will discourage birds from landing on the water by changing the shape and look of the lakes and doing some other adjustments. When we discussed this with IMC Chemical personnel early on they all told me it was too expensive and was out of the question.

To me the problem lies in that statement. “It’s too expensive” to change the way they are doing business so therefore it is acceptable to kill birds at a level that we all know is higher – more than 4,000 by our counts – than we have been able to document . That is the “attitude” that needs to be changed and although we are understanding and sensitive to the costs of doing business, it is just unacceptable to allow a large number of wild birds to die due to our human practices – especially when there is something that can be done about it.

Read more on the IBRRC website

July 7, 2008

Birds caught in chemical lake of death

The San Francisco Chronicle has a terrific two part story today on the Mojave Desert chemical processing town where migrating birds land and die with regularity. The feathers of the aquatic birds, like the Bufflehead pictured above, become laden in a salty crystal that leave the birds unable to fly out of an arsenic-containing brine.

The stories focuses more on Rita Smith and former plant workers fighting for their lives after developing wide ranging sickness from working in the plant. Read part one of the story and part two.

The company is Searles Valley Minerals (formerly IMC Chemicals) and it’s located in Trona, CA, 170 miles northeast of Los Angeles near the high desert city of Ridgecrest. Thousands of birds have died over the years when they land in the company’s man-made lakes that carries the reside from the chemical plant’s processing run-off.

Here at the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) we know this story all to well. For more than five years IBRRC rescue personnel were contracted to work daily saving birds on the plant’s sprawling lake area. The state ordered the company to rescue salt-laden birds from the plant’s waterways. The chemical plant produces soda ash, boron and sodium sulfate.

IBRRC helped catch and treat hundreds of birds. Most of the birds – ducks, grebes, loons abd white pelicans – were cleaned of the salt, stabilized and then transferred to IBRRC’s San Pedro bird center. The company paid for the state-ordered treatment. Over the past six years, by California Department of Fish and Game estimates, at least 4,000 birds have perished in the area.

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July 5, 2008

Uruguay oil spill affects migrating penguins

A recent oil spill in Uruguay is making it tough on migrating penguins and other birds along the coast of this South American country located between Argentina and Brazil. Magellanic Penguins are the most affected by the spill that occurred when two ships collided about 12 miles (20 km) from the port of Montevideo, Uruguay on June 3, 2008.

A joint IFAW/IBRRC Emergency Response Team is on-site and working with other area wildlife rescue groups to help with the logistics and treatment of the oiled birds. A swimming pool at a Punta Del Este beach-side waterpark is being used to help the penguins recuperate.

A total of 139 birds are in house and being cleaned and reconditioned for release back into the wild. This includes three great grebes, 135 Magellanic penguins and one giant petrel.

According to an IFAW report, the ER team has had great successes this week as they have been able to clean all the birds that were healthy enough to go through the stressful cleaning process. A good majority of the penguins are clean and in waterproofing pools, reconditioning for release. One of the major problems for these birds has been that they’ve come in to care in such debilitated conditions and most are extremely under weight. Oiled birds often become obsessed with preening their feathers to try to remove the oil and ignore feeding or they become so hypothermic, due to the oil disrupting their waterproofing ability, that they beach themselves and then don’t eat or drink. Medically stabilizing these birds is a big part of what our team does so successfully and this is evidenced by so many of these birds being healthy enough to go through the cleaning process already. At this time, there are 101 clean birds and only 29 that are still underweight or anemic and are being given supportive care until they are healthy enough for cleaning and reconditioning. Two great grebes that were oiled have been cleaned, reconditioned and were released this week! The team is tentatively planning a release of the first penguins for next Wednesday, July 9.

The oiled birds swam through the spill when the Greece registered ship, the Syros and the Sea Bird, a vessel registered in Malta, collided near Montevideo. The collision produced a 12 mile long oil spill near the Rio de la Plata river.

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