Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Archive for February 2009

February 23, 2009

Study: Seabird deaths linked to red-tide foam

An important new study about the 2007 Monterey Bay bird die off is pointing toward a red-tide algae bloom that induced a dangerous sea foam. According to the study, the birds feathers lost their water-repellant nature after being coated with the foam.

The main species in the red tide was a type of dinoflagellate known as Akashiwo sanguinea. The red tide event hit when large numbers of migrating birds had arrived in the area. Also big waves churned up the water creating the sea foam that stripped birds feathers of natural insulating properties.

Birds affected included grebes, loons, northern fulmars, and surf scoters. Stranded birds were found starving and severely hypothermic. Nearly 600 birds were located alive and 207 were found dead during this event.

According to the report, freshly stranded birds had a pungent odor similar to that of linseed oil while still wet, but with time, this material dried, leaving a fine, pale yellow crust with minimal smell.

Raphael Kudela, professor of ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, teamed up with scientists from California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML)–all members of the Central and Northern California Ocean Observing System (CeNCOOS).

These kinds of red-tide events may occur more often in the future, Kulea said. These changes are probably due in part to the effects of climate change on surface water temperatures.

The study alludes to another interesting fact about other compounds in the bay worth studying:

…Extracts of seawater from four areas in northern Monterey Bay heavily impacted by the red tide were analyzed for polar and non-polar compounds by gas- and liquid chromatography-mass spectroscopy and were found to be negative for petroleum compounds, commercial surfactants, pesticides, domoic acid, okadaic acid, and microcystin toxins. However, samples of the co-occurring surface foam present at these same sites contained significant concentrations of an organic compound with a predominant chromatographic peak at 1230 mw, corresponding to a m/z 616 dimer composed of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen…

Researchers are releasing this study through an online journal called PLoS One: Mass Stranding of Marine Birds Caused by a Surfactant-Producing Red Tide

Read the Press Release on the UC Santa Cruz website

February 20, 2009

Looking for new oil spill response team members

Through a generous grant from the San Francisco Foundation Cosco Busan Oil Spill Fund, IBRRC is now recruiting new members to train for its renowned oil spill response team. The training and workshops will be provided by us at the Northern California headquarters in Cordelia. The first in a series of classes will be taking place at the end of March. Applications are being accepted through March 15th.

This is a unique opportunity to join IBRRC’s esteemed corps of wildlife professionals who have helped earn them global recognition as the ‘gold standard’ in oiled wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. Those interested are asked to first review the requirements for participation, available on IBRRC’s website, before applying. See: Oil Spill response Team Training Program

E-mail us for more info: recruitment@ibrrc.org

February 13, 2009

Great little movie of Brown Pelican rescue

People send us the nicest things:

“I am a local (Venice based) film director. The other day I was shooting on the beach and I got some great footage of a sick pelican and his subsequent rescue by one of your volunteers.

I edited together a little one minute film I thought might be useful for you and your cause.”

Tao Ruspoli in Southern California took this video and sent it to us after seeing a [adult, winter plumage] pelican in distress. A member of the Marine Wildlife Rescue team scoops up the bird and takes it to IBRRC’s San Pedro bird center for treatment.

Thanks Tao for creating this great Public Service announcement (PSA).

February 11, 2009

California Brown Pelicans in distress: Event update

^Brown Pelican feet suffering from frostbite (IBRRC photo)

From Jay Holcomb, IBRRC’s exceutive director:

I would like to provide you with an overview of what we know about the recent California Brown Pelican event that began in mid-December 2008 and slowed down in the last week or so.

I wish we were able to point to a single “smoking gun” but we are not. Instead I will provide you with what we know and what we don’t know and, like us, let you make your own decisions. One thing is for sure, this was an unusual event and there remain unanswered questions that we will pursue throughout the following months.

IBRRC received about 200 California Brown Pelicans between our two rehabilitation centers in San Pedro (Southern California) and Fairfield/Cordelia (Northern California) centers. Approximately 60 of them are still in rehabilitation and we have released over 75 already. We will provide the mortality and released numbers for a later date when all the birds are gone. Approximately 75% of these birds were what we call mature birds. That means that they are at least 3 years of age. This is when they get their “adult” plumage. The rest are a mixture of juvenile birds. Over 500 reportings of sick, dying and disoriented birds have been logged also.

Related: State moves Pelican off Endangered Species List

When we began to get calls about brown pelicans in distress in mid-December we noticed a few things that we had not experienced in all the years we have been rehabilitating brown pelicans:

1) Most of the birds reported were adults. It is not that unusual for IBRRC to see confused and inexperienced juveniles sometimes do silly things like land on roads etc. but typically not experienced and “proven” adults.

2) Many were acting disoriented, landing on highways, roads, airport runways, in yards, many miles inland, in higher altitudes and hiding under piers and in corners of coastal parking lots. When we usually get sick or injured brown pelicans they are most often found on beaches or near the water somewhere like fishing docks etc. and their problems are often visual like injuries or dehydrated appearance. So, their sporadic behavior in this event clued us in to something unusual happening.

3) Many of them were thin and in a weakened state.

4) We had never had a situation like this in mid-winter with brown pelicans.

5) Many had what appeared to be frost bite on their feet. (see pictures)

These were the clues that encouraged us to take action, contact the renowned pelican biologists; the media and our colleagues who could help provide some insight to why this occurred. We sent blood samples from some of the Southern California pelicans to the Dave Caron Lab at the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California. We also send bodies of freshly diseased pelicans to the California Department of Fish & Game and The USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin.

Here is what we know so far:

1) The pelicans were negative for avian influenza.

2) The pelicans were negative for West Nile virus.

3) They did not have significant bacterial growth and no virus was evident. That would rule out anything that could be considered infectious at this time.

4) The necrotic tissue on feet and pouches is likely due to frostbite and not viral or bacterial in nature. These problems are most likely a result of a large number of birds getting caught in the cold snap that hit Oregon and Washington around Christmas.

5) Some of the birds in San Pedro did show low levels of domoic acid. From Dave Caron’s email, “we’ve now looked at samples from a total of 18 brown pelicans. Four were positive for domoic acid, but not at levels that we have seen during previous years during very toxic DA events in local waters. Our data continue to support our previous conjecture that domoic acid is playing a secondary, not primary, role in the present brown pelican mortality event.”

6) So far, histology to look for chronic domoic acid lesions have not shown anything unusual or evident.

7) If we get the birds in time they respond well to immediate fluid and nutritional therapy and as pelicans usually do in rehab, they eat well and gain their weight back.

So, some answers but still no smoking gun. There has been a lot of conjecture on what this is ultimately all about. We do know that California Brown Pelicans will travel north throughout California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia in the summer months and usually begin to head back south in large numbers in October. This year an estimated 4,000 or so brown pelicans stayed in Oregon and Washington until December when the very cold snap came. The weather changed drastically and quickly and, although not proven, is likely what caused the frostbite that we saw in a number of birds. This has occurred on the east coast in the past and birds have suffered similar problems with their feet and pouch.

They began moving south in large numbers very quickly and it’s likely that a mixture of cold weather, the physical stress of an immediate weather induced migration and possibly the reduction of fish due to water temperature changes could have all contributed to this event.

This still does not explain the disoriented behavior of many of these birds and that leads us to believe that there may be something else going on that we don’t know. As I said before, we are still looking at the situation more in depth and will report if and when we find any answers.

However, the question remains: Why did so many birds stay north longer than usual and why did the weather change so drastically, so quickly? Given the reports around the world of dramatic and unusual climate changes it is not inappropriate to connect this phenomenon to climate change but again, the science to support that hypothesis 100% is still not in so, again, its just a theory.

Our deepest gratitude to everyone who supported IBRRC’s efforts to care for these birds and our colleagues who helped capture, transport birds and those provided their medical and scientific expertise in an attempt to gain some answers.


Jay Holcomb
Director, IBRRC

Previous postings

Media steps up reports on Brown Pelican crisis

What’s causing fatigued pelicans to drop from sky?

February 11, 2009

Another wake up call: Global warming and birds

If you’ve been on the fence regarding global warming, here’s a sobering Audubon California report that should move you to some sort of action.

The study released Tuesday finds that California will lose significant numbers of its native birds as the continuing shifts in climate change quickly shrinks the range and habitat of more than 100 species. See Audubon website

According to the report:

Climate change is already pushing species globally poleward and higher in elevation. In California, directional changes in climate during the 20th century were substantial. Throughout this period, and in the centuries before, California also experienced cyclical changes as a result of a weather pattern known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation4. Hence, bird species in California have managed to survive various forms of past climate change, often by shifting their distributions around the state. But will they be able to continue to respond to future changes of a much larger magnitude?

Two factors argue that they will not. The first is that our current network of protected lands was not designed to buffer species, communities, and whole ecosystems against large-scale processes like climate change. The second is that the major climate variables influencing species’ distributions are expected to change so quickly that even highly mobile species like birds will be unable to keep pace. Hence, future climate change threatens California’s birds with massive range reductions and, in extreme cases, statewide extirpations and global extinctions.

These dire predictions are based on models of future climates, and serve as a companion to a nation-wide Audubon Society study. Using data collected over the past 40 years, that study concluded that 177 bird species in the U.S. are spending the winter farther north because of a warming world.

In California, scientists worry that the quickly warming climate might not only force certain species to move northward, but wipe out others that are not quick to adapt.

At IBRRC our observation and treatment of sick Brown Pelicans these last two months seems to support our concerns. In fall 2008, Pelicans spent longer in the north where fish stocks seem to be more plentiful. When the weather changed quickly in Oregon and Washington, they got stuck in freezing temperatures and fled south. Some got off course and other died in route. Over 200 ended up being treated at our California bird centers. See: Update on California Brown Pelicans in distress

All is not lost. The study suggests that if we can significantly curb our output of greenhouse gas emissions (cars, factories) and invest in conservation (walk, bus, bike, invest in a lower wattage footprint) we can greatly reduce the damage.

Come on folks, this is not a drill. Our health, planet and bird’s lives depend on us to get off our butts!

Read: Curbing greenhouse gas emissions will reduce future California bird loss (PDF download)

February 10, 2009

Save a bird, buy a new IBRRC t-shirt

How can you help us treat more sick and injured birds? Buy one of our newly designed IBRRC t-shirts. They’re $15 plus shipping and handling.

The shirts were designed by Mark Russell, IBRRC’s resident bird artist, speaker and trainer.

Available in Carolina Blue or Vegas Gold, these handsome shirts are guaranteed to look great and pay it forward. Buy one (or two) online

February 9, 2009

State moves Pelican off Endangered Species List

On February 5, 2009, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to remove the Brown Pelican from the list species considered to be endangered by the State of California.

This marks the first endangered species that has ever been deemed by the state to have recovered. The delisting and acknowledgement of success with this species is a significant conservation achievement for California, the United States and all involved.

We at IBRRC are delighted that their numbers have rebounded and their appearance along our coast is once again a common occurrence. However, we remain apposed to this delisting as the California Brown Pelican. As an indicator species, this pelican is still highly vulnerable to oil spills, domoic acid events, exposure to botulism at the Salton Sea and the constant pollution that they encounter on a daily basis.

To make matters worse, pelicans are also frequent victims of fishing tackle entanglements, direct cruelty situations, changes in food supply (fish), mysterious situations like the recent events during the last few months.

We believe that it was premature to delist this species until their population has time to mature as a population and fully reestablish itself fully within its range.

In the 1960s Brown Pelicans nearly went extinct due to the use of DDT, a pesticide. During that time biologists discovered the only remaining colony of California brown pelicans nesting on the Anacapa Islands (off Southern California) weren’t successfully reproducing. In 1970, there were 550 nests and only one chick survived; the California Brown Pelican was put on the federal Endangered Species list.

See: Endangered Brown Pelicans face uncertain future

February 7, 2009

Rossmoor votes to shoot more acorn woodpeckers

After months of anger with woodpeckers damaging property and causing noise, two Rossmoor homeowner’s associations have voted again to shoot and kill more woodpeckers around its homes.

The homeowners groups received a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last summer to kill up to 50 Acorn Woodpeckers in the hope of driving them away from their neighborhoods. At least 20 woodpeckers have already been killed in an earlier government sanctioned action.

Rossmoor is retirement community, located in Walnut Creek area about 25 miles east of San Francisco, with nearly 9,000 residents in million dollar condominium homes. Its situated in an oaks woodland area that is beloved by lots of creatures.

According to news reports, the Rossmoor residents have spent $170,000 trying to scare the birds away. They’ve used recordings of screeching falcons and hawks. They tacked Mylar to the sides of homes. They even painted homes with a special paint that purports to frighten birds away. The birds still continue to annoy residents.

People from all over the country have called and written asking Rossmoor homeowners to reconsider the last resort of shooting the birds. Even the folks from the Audubon Society’s Mt. Diablo chapter stepped in to offer assistance in humanely scaring the birds away. But late last month they rescinded its offer after the residents voted to begin shooting. Audubon even asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to take away the group’s shooting permit.

More than a few people have pointed out that killing these birds is futile. Another group will move in soon enough. The birds will also continue to store acorns in buildings that have been built too close to open woodlands where trees have been removed for development.

See Gary Bogue’s column: Killing acorn woodpeckers creates worse problems

Some have complained that not all deterrents to the birds drilling in buildings has been carried out. Wildlife groups are petitioning politicians and government agencies to stop the killings.

The Acorn Woodpecker are super industrious and will use all types of structures to store acorns. They will drill holes in fence posts, utility poles, buildings, and even automobile radiators. Woodpeckers even stored 485 lbs of acorns into a Arizona wooden water tank. See more on the Cornell University’s All About Birds website

News report: Woodpeckers in a peck of trouble at Rossmoor

Photo by Brian Murphy, Walnut Creek

February 7, 2009

Thanks to the Mount Diablo Audubon Society

Executive Director Jay Holcomb was warmly welcomed by more than 90 members of the Mount Diablo Audubon Society (MDAS) on Feb. 5th for a brief retrospective talk about IBRRC.

Jay’s discussion was arranged by Alice Holmes and Mike and Cecil Williams, owners of Wild Birds Unlimited in Pleasant Hill, and all officers in the MDAS.

The Audubon group made a very generous $2,000 donation to IBRRC’s bird rescue efforts. Vice President Mike Williams made the presentation.

“We thank the MDAS and Mike, Cecil and Alice for arranging this talk,” says Laurie Pyne, IBRRC’s Development Director and Board Member. “We appreciate the new knowledge that comes with sharing information and look forward to future collaborations.”

See: Mount Diablo Audubon Society

February 5, 2009

Ubiquitous Canada Geese tangle with NY jet

The amazing story of US Airways Flight 1549 crew that helped safely land its jet into a New York river last month is over-shadowing the continuing danger that birds and planes face everyday: Collision.

Most large aircraft can handle up to a 4 pound bird being sucked through its jet engines. But the ever present Canada geese – the suspected culprits in this crash — weigh an average of 10 lbs. See Time Magazine’s story: The US Airways Crash: A Growing Bird Hazard

Hudson River US Airways Crash with Audio from Dan Nunan on Vimeo.

By the way, the best animation I’ve seen of the incident, er shredded geese, is this one from Scene Systems out of Manahattan Beach, CA. It includes a terrific showing of what happened as US Airways Airbus 320 hit the birds just after takeoff at LaGuardia Airport. I found this displayed at the Incisivemedia Legal Tech 2009 technology trade show in New York City this week. See: Info on the animation

Much has been written about bird strikes around airports. I thought Alfred J. Godin’s “Birds at airports” was a good overview on the history and prevention attempts.

As much as we love birds at IBRRC, we’re glad that everyone onboard US Airways Flight 1549 made it off alive.