Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Archive for January 2009

January 29, 2009

Remembering Santa Barbara oil spill 40 years ago

Excellent opinion piece in San Jose Mercury News from Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara who writes on the efforts to block opening more oil drilling on California coast:

“Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Santa Barbara oil spill. On Jan. 28, 1969, a blowout on a Unocal rig six miles off the coast of California spilled 3 million gallons of oil into the ocean. Oil spoiled 35 miles of coastline from Rincon Point to Goleta and tarred Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands. The blackened corpses of oil-soaked birds, seals and dolphins washed up on our beaches. Citizens were outraged, and the modern environmental movement was born.

Although we have come a long way since that tragic day, recent events indicate that some have forgotten history. At this critical time, we must remember that the choices we make today will decide whether our shoreline and coastal oceans are exploited or protected for years to come. This is especially true for Santa Barbara. Drilling off the Santa Barbara coastline carries with it the same significance as a violation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In 2008, the “Drill Here, Drill Now” crowd caused a dramatic shift in offshore oil drilling policy. In July 2008, former President Bush repealed the Executive Order imposed by his father in 1990. In September 2008, Congress didn’t renew the moratorium on drilling for oil and gas on the outer continental shelf, opening up federal waters off the California coast for drilling for the first time since the 1981 moratorium…” Full opinion column here

January 28, 2009

Close call for tanker near Golden Gate Bridge

That collective sigh of relief you heard Tuesday night was for the stranded oil tanker that drifted dangerously close to the rocky shore in Marin County near the Golden Gate Bridge. (Coast Guard Photo)

Luckily the 741-foot oil tanker was secured after it lost power while heading out of San Francisco Bay. It rekindled memories of the Cosco Busan oil spill that hit in November 2007.

The Ecudorian flagged Overseas Cleliamar usually carries petroleum products. It had no cargo, although it carried thousands of gallons of fuel oil onboard to sail back to Ecuador. The Coast Guard monitored the ship today and it is now be docked in San Francisco Bay

Powerless tanker got close to rocky shore

January 24, 2009

How slow is mail? 8 week delivery for newsletter

We all know the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) can be slow at times but this is ridiculous: It took 2 months for our Fall 2008 newsletter to finally hit members’ mailboxes.

Back just before Thanksgiving on November 26, 2008, our printer dropped off the 2,300 properly addressed copies at the main post office in Oakland. Even allowing for the busy holiday mail season we believed the items would be delivered before Christmas. Boy were we ever wrong!

After numerous attempts by our printer to figure out where the newsletter was in the bulk mail system, the post office finally admitted the items were sitting in the wrong department. After discovery it went out and was delivered withing a couple of days. Our printer, Greenerprinter in Berkeley, was clearly frustrated with the USPS service, too.

So we had to laugh a bit when we saw the story in the San Francisco Chronicle this week bemoaning the changes afoot for the USPS because of the slumping mail volume:

Mail volume fell by 9.5 billion pieces, 4.5 percent, during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, contributing to a staggering $2.8 billion loss for the Postal Service. This year isn’t looking any better, postal officials said. There’s another stamp-price hike in the works in May.

Read the complete story: Postal Service changes routes in hard times

Hello? Pay better attention to your service and maybe you’d have happier customers and less frustration like we experienced.

Like many non-profits and businesses, we depend on the postal service to move occasional communication to members and supporters. However with increased costs and bad service, we’re delivering more news via the web and through e-mail.

Call us old fashioned, but for some of us, printed matter still works. Not all folks like e-mail newsletters and printed material tends to have a longer shelf life and usually gets read multiple times.

In the meantime, thanks for your patience. You can download a PDF version of the On the Wing newsletter. No postage is required.

January 16, 2009

Theories abound: Pelican numbers updated

We have now logged over 460 dead or ill pelicans from Baja California to Astoria, Oregon since mid-December. Some test results have been received, but many results are still pending. More conclusive evidence is expected within a week or two. So far, birds have tested negative for avian influenza and for high levels of domoic acid.

One theory is that the brown pelicans migrated south late, likely due to unseasonably warm weather on the Oregon coast in November. In mid-December the coast experienced record-breaking cold temperatures, after which pelicans were found suffering from frostbite.

Pouch and foot injuries seen in California could be consistent with frostbite in birds that migrated after being caught in cold weather. The behavioral changes we have seen, however, are unusual. These behavioral changes are different from what is usually seen in starving, debilitated birds.

“While it is likely that the change in migration patterns contributed to the problems we are seeing, frostbite does not explain the behavioral changes we are seeing in the ill pelicans,” said Dr. Heather Nevill, IBRRC veterinarian. “Until complete test results are available, it is premature to assume that this event was caused solely by weather changes.”

The pelicans eat a lot of fish and IBRRC is asking the public to help defray costs associated with this crisis. Please consider adopting-a-pelican or donating to help.

If you see an ailing pelicans report it to your local rescue organization or by calling the toll-free California Wildlife Hotline 866-WILD-911. If you’ve found a dead pelican, you are encouraged to leave information by pressing option 2.

January 15, 2009

New pelican report: Cold weather to blame?

A New York Times story about the pelican crisis is quoting a state wildlife veterinarian that says the birds were brutalized by Mother Nature’s cold fury.

“Pelicans were observed in the middle of that storm and then seen moving south,” said David A. Jessup, senior wildlife veterinarian for the California Department of Fish and Game. About a week later, he said, ill birds started showing up on the California coast and further inland.

The tip-off for scientists, said Mr. Jessup, was frostbite. “It was severe in a lot of cases,” he said. “There were legs, toes and pouches frozen off.”

Read NY Times story: In Pelican Mystery, Weather Is a Suspect

Our report with photos and links is on our site

January 15, 2009

Pelican crisis: "It will take some detective work"

In 35 years of studying pelicans, Dan Anderson, an avian specialist at UC Davis, says “it will take some detective work” to find out why scores of pelicans are showing thin, disoriented or even dead (photo, right) from Oregon to Baja California.

In a story from the Chicago Sun-Times, Anderson, says he’s only seen this kind if event “once or twice” in his professional life.

Others are feeling the same way: “We’ve seen enough to imply that something is odd, and right now it is a big question mark what it is,” said Jay Holcomb, Executive Director of IBRRC said in the same media report.

So far, many theories have surfaced about what might be happening. It could be a toxin, such as fire retardant, running off the land from recent fires. Or the domoic acid, a nuero-toxin that causes brain damage. Or even the cold weather that hit the Pacific Northwest in December that triggered another disease. Maybe all three contributed to this confluence of events.

Note: Recent tests of six pelicans did show levels of domoic acid in three of the birds. Read the press release

Since mid-December, IBRRC has taken in 160 pelicans for treatment in two California bird centers. IBRRC has also reported at least 300 dead brown pelicans in this same time period.

They been found in the oddest places: freeways, backyards and in store parking lots. We even had one report of one found at 7200 feet in New Mexico. They are disoriented, malnourished and badly in need of care. [ Note: Photo, right, from Albertson’s parking lot in Southern California – Photo courtesy: Peter Wallerstein/Marine Animal Rescue ]

In meantime, if you see a pelican in need, please call this toll free number: 866-WILD-911. You can submit unusual photos of pelican sighting to webcoot@ibrrc.org)

How to help the pelicans:


Donate online

Sign-up to volunteer your time

Shop at Ralphs Grocery Store? Sign-up your card to help

January 10, 2009

New stories: Brown pelicans turning up sick

The Contra Costa Times video perfectly captured the sounds, words and deeds of our staff and volunteers working with impacted brown pelicans. This report is from Fairfield and similar stories could be told from the Southern California bird center:

The voice over is from Michelle Bellizzi, our dedicated Rehabilitation Manager in Fairfield, CA.

Read the complete story from the January 9th Contra Costa Times

See the IBRRC report on pelican crisis

January 9, 2009

Pelican test results: 3 out of 6 have toxin in system

This afternoon we received results from initial domoic acid tests which indicate some levels of domoic acid in the pelicans. While 3 out of the 6 birds tested were positive for domoic acid, we cannot conclude that the neurotoxin is the primary cause of the widespread illness. See more on our website

Samples of phytoplankton collected recently from the waters off of Santa Barbara to Newport Beach were also tested. 5 out of 14 samples indicated very low concentrations.

These are the first of many test results expected. Additional blood and tissue samples are being tested and we anticipate more information within the next two weeks.

“We are very appreciative of the rapid test results from the Dave Caron Lab at USC. We believe these results are significant but do not explain all the signs we are seeing in the pelicans. We are seeing a number of conditions that are not typical of domoic acid toxicity or a domoic acid event. Therefore, we are continuing to collect and test samples, keeping an open mind and considering all possibilities,” according to Dr. Heather Nevill, DVM, IBRRC’s veterinarian leading the groups investigation.

Due to the great distribution of ailing pelicans (Baja to WA), and the fact that most of the pelicans are thin, as opposed to being of good body weight (typical in a domoic acid event), this indicates to us that domoic acid is likely playing a secondary role to a larger problem.

We will keep everyone apprised as information comes in.

To locate the nearest rescue organization or to report dead pelicans the public is encouraged to phone the California wildlife hotline 866-WILD-911. To date we have recorded 265 reports of dead or ailing pelicans from Baja California, Mexico to WA with over 100 brown pelicans receiving treatment.

How to help


Donate online

Sign-up to volunteer your time

January 9, 2009

Pelican off course: Los Alamos, New Mexico snow

Interesting picture from Chris Lutes who discovered this pelican in the New Mexico snow:

I saw this pelican on 12/15/08 in Los Alamos, New Mexico – elevation 7200′. We had approx 50 mph winds the day before associated with a winter storm that came in from California.

Pelicans are built for cold temperatures and weakened by freezing weather they will surely die. Chris says this pelican flew off before local wildlife rescuers could help.

View Larger Map

January 8, 2009

Media steps up reports on Brown Pelican crisis

More news reports are coming out, some with humourous images (right) about the current brown pelican crisis in California. Currently there are 75 pelicans in care at IBRRC’s two bird centers:

PELICANS suffering from a mysterious malady are crashing into cars and boats, wandering along roadways and turning up dead by the hundreds across the West Coast, from southern Oregon to Baja California, Mexico, bird rescue workers say.

Weak, disoriented birds are huddling in people’s yards or being struck by cars. More than 100 have been rescued along the California coast, according to the International Bird Rescue Research Center in San Pedro.

Hundreds of birds, disoriented or dead, have been observed across the West Coast.

“One pelican actually hit a car in Los Angeles,” said Rebecca Dmytryk of Wildrescue, a bird rescue operation. “One pelican hit a boat in Monterey.”

From the Daily Telegraph in Australia: See Full story


Scientific American: Mystery: Why are California Brown pelicans dying in droves?

National Geographic: VIDEO: Mystery Pelican Die-Off in California

Fox-35 TV: Brown Pelican Mystery Intensifies As Deaths Increase

KSBW-TV: Rash Of Sick Pelicans Found Along Coast

AP: Increase of sick brown pelicans baffles experts

How to help


Donate to IBRRC

Volunteer at IBRRC

Your help and words of encouragement are always appreciated!

January 6, 2009

What’s causing fatigued pelicans to drop from sky?

The ongoing discovery of scores of fatigued and disoriented California Brown Pelicans is causing concern among biologists and bird lovers, but yielding few concrete answers to what’s causing their condition.

Since late in December, the giant seabirds have been found in frail condition along highways and backyards, miles from their coastal homes. At both IBRRC bird centers, but especially at the San Pedro center, we’ve had our hands full treating these remarkable birds. There are almost 50 pelicans in care this week alone.

Writer Louis Sahagun and photographer Mark Boster of the Los Angeles Times collaborated to capture the concern for these pelicans:

Wildlife rescuers from San Diego to San Francisco suddenly are facing a distressing biological mystery: Disoriented and bruised California brown pelicans are landing on highways and airport runways and in farm fields, alleys and backyards miles from their normal coastal haunts.

In the last week, the big brown birds known for flying in formation over beaches have been reported wobbling across Culver Boulevard in Playa del Rey and on a Los Angeles International Airport runway. Two dead pelicans were found on the 110 Freeway. Elsewhere, one smacked into a car.

See: California brown pelicans found frail and far from home

View: The LA Times photo gallery

Learn how you can help us care for these birds: Adopt-a-Pelican

January 4, 2009

They don’t come with credit cards: Birds in need

Aquatic bird specialists, International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) is noticing a trend in California Brown Pelicans along the coastline from Monterey to San Diego and they need your help.

An unusual number of birds are coming in thin and disoriented – being found on roads and in fields. What is remarkable is that many are adult pelicans. Often this behavior is associated with domoic acid from a marine algae but so far the birds exhibit no other typical neurological disorders. The center now has 40 in care; ten pelicans came in in the last few days.

IBRRC is asking for your help in reporting ailing pelicans to your local rescue organization or by calling the toll-free California Wildlife Hotline 866-WILD-911. You are encouraged to leave information on dead pelicans there as well by pressing option 2.

How to help

Both of IBRRC’s facilities are in need of assistance in transporting pelicans from other centers and with the care of the high number of birds in treatment. There’s dire need for funds to offset the cost of caring for these huge birds – their adopt a pelican program is a unique way to help while being personally involved in a pelican’s care and release. Adopt-a-pelican

To help, please send inquiries to info@ibrrc.org or call the Fairfield facility at (707) 207-0380 Ext 110 or the San Pedro center at (310) 514-2573.

Kudos to the Daily Breeze newspaper in Southern California for the pelican story Swooping in for birds in need: Pelicans overload rescue center in San Pedro. The article captures perfectly the increase in sick and hungry brown pelicans coming into the San Pedro bird center.

Jay Holcomb, IBRRC’s Executive Director was quoted in the article:

“We don’t usually get that many that come in at this time of year. We’ve been getting them regularly, and we’ve been concerned about it,” Holcomb said. “They’re expensive animals – they eat tons of fish and require a lot of medicine. We’ll never shut the door to them, but they don’t come in with credit cards.”

More Adopt a bird info and Donate online info.