Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Archive for April 2009

April 25, 2009

60,000 birds struck by aircraft since 2000

Almost 60,000 birds have been struck by commercial and private aircraft in North America a new FAA report revealed this week. The most common strike involved Mourning Doves: Pilots reported hitting 2,291 of the dove species between 2000 and 2008.

In eight years the other avian strikes included gulls (2,186), European starlings (1,427) and American kestrels (1,422).

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) report also noted that New York’s Kennedy (JFK) airport and Sacramento International (SAC) reported the most incidents with serious damage. JFK reported 1,804 incidents with 84 that involved substantial damage or destroyed components; SAC had 1,438 and 56 major damage. San Francisco (SF0) airport: 1,014 and 45; Los Angeles (LAX): 940 bird strikes, 36.

Since 1990, there was a total of 112,387 reports of aircraft striking wildlife, including reptiles and mammals, at 2,008 airports in the United States and Canada. Pilots and airlines volunteerily report bird strikes to the FAA.

See the National Wildlife Strike Database on-line database

Bird strikes happen most often during take-off or landing, or during a low altitude flights. A serious danger to both birds and jet engines is when a flock of birds ingested into the engine.

The most recent famous bird flock vs. jet occurred in January 2009 when an Airbus A320 struck a flock of Canada Geese while climbing out from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The strike caused a nearly complete loss of power in both engines. Because of quick action from the US Airways flight 1549 flight crew, the plane made a successful emergency landing in the Hudson River. The 155 passengers and crew were mostly unhurt. The birds weren’t so lucky.

Many wildlife experts say the population of some birds, particularly large ones like Canada geese (photo above), have been growing as more and more birds find food to live near cities and airports year round rather than migrating. Airports also provide a wide variety of natural and human-made habitats that offer abundant food, water and cover. Many airports are located along migratory routes used by birds.

News reports:

CNN: Newly opened database shows airplane bird strikes not rare

San Francisco Chronicle: Birds damaged planes at SFO 45 times since 1990

Los Angeles Times: Airplane ‘bird strikes’ have climbed dramatically, FAA records show

April 23, 2009

Good news: Owens Lake bird life improving

A bit of good news in the bird world is always welcome and this month the spotlight is on Owens Lake on the eastern side of the Sierras. The Los Angeles Times has a very upbeat piece documenting the increased counts of migrating birds at the Central California lake.

For many years the lake was a dusty mess as water was diverted to thirsty Southern California. At one time the lake was 30 feet deep. In 2001 the LA Water agency finally acted to control a huge dust problem. They now flood the 100 square mile lake bed with ankle deep water and thus encourage birds and their insect prey to proliferate.

At this year’s bird count, organized by Audubon volunteers, the numbers of all species were up from last.

Read the entire story: Bird census at Owens Lake shows nature returning

April 22, 2009

Handle with care: As the earth goes, so do we

It’s Earth Day today and we don’t need a reminder how things could be better for Mother Earth. She’s like the mom who drank too much in her youth, smoked three packs of cigarettes a day and then up and decided to run a full marathon in 105 degree heat.

So take it easy on Mother Earth for more than one day and she’ll go easy on us. Find a way to recycle, buy less plastic and find creative ways to get through this life on earth. Have some hope.

By the way, Earth Day began in 1970 and it has its roots in the 1960s environmental movement. A Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin is credited with floating the idea to honor the earth as early as 1962. It came to head after the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill killed thousands of seabirds. The following spring, Earth Day was born.

Read the history of Earth Day: How the First Earth Day Came About

April 21, 2009

Burglar rattles nerves at Fairfield bird rescue

The second break-in in two weeks at IBRRC’s Fairfield bird center is rattling staff’s nerves.

On Sunday, clinic staff arrived to care for the hospital’s avian patients and were greeted with the sight of sprayed broken glass, an office in complete disarray and missing items, including all the money in the in-house donation box.

This is the second break-in in the Fairfield center in two weeks. The first incident was on April 8th, when items from the administration building were stolen. Stolen property from both incidents is valued at approximately $5,000.00.

No birds currently under care were harmed. The International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) is cooperating with the Fairfield Police Department in their investigation. Any information or suspicious activity should be reported to the Fairfield Police Department at 707-428-7300.

IBRRC has recently been in the news with the current influx of Brandt’s cormorants, mostly from the South Bay area that are showing up thin and disoriented. The break-ins have come at a time when the center is very busy and working to raise funds to feed and care for the sick cormorants and other patients they are receiving daily.

The stolen items included important computers for data collection that help us process the thousands of birds treated each year. All of the computers were backed up to a secure location and there wasn’t any membership data on these units. From what we know, some other businesses in the area also were hit by thieves.

IBRRC would like to remind other organizations to be extra vigilant with security. For the sake of your nerves, backup computer files often and add extra features at your offices to help deter these costly crimes.

April 18, 2009

Update: Influx of sick Brandt’s Cormorants

Hello everyone,

As we enter into an already busy spring season I wanted to take a few minutes to say thank you to everyone who supported IBRRC during the last year and more recently during the pelican event that we experienced this winter. We enter into spring with a smaller but similar influx of sick and disoriented birds. This time they are Brandt’s Cormorants. We have about 25 of them at the center right now and are expecting more soon. Most of these birds have come from the South Bay Area: Alviso and San Jose and some from Monterey as well. Most are adults in beautiful breeding plumage and all are in a weakened state but respond well to a treatment of fluid therapy and lots of fish. We also worm them as a courtesy to them to help them get back on track. All seabirds have internal and sometimes external parasites and although these are normal, they can aid in weakening a weak bird even more.

We asked the biologists at PRBO Conservation Science about Brandt’s Cormorants and how they should be acting this time of year. Here is a bit of what they communicated back to us on April 16.

From Pete Warzybok, Farallon Islands Biologist, PRBO Conservation Science:

“We have the largest breeding colony in the area on the Farallones, but the birds have been AWOL all spring. Usually we would have birds setting up nests by now, but they haven’t really even been around the island so far. My guess is that they are hanging out along the coast and foraging near shore. This also happened last year and we ended up with the smallest breeding population of Brandt’s and lowest reproductive success in almost 20 years. Similar failures were observed at colonies throughout northern California and Oregon. I hope that this is not the first sign of another colony failure.

We have certainly had a lot of wind out here the last few weeks and the ocean has really been churned up. In fact this is the windiest spring that I have experienced since I started here in 2000. It has more or less been blowing 25-30 continuously since the third week of March with few periods of relaxation. That might help to explain why the corms are not building nests. Cormies are visual predators, so the high winds and choppy seas might also make foraging difficult, resulting in the skinny birds that have been brought in to you. Although they should be able to dive below the chop, there just might not be much there to feed on. Right now I would imagine that there is a lot of upwelling with all this wind, but it doesn’t appear to be that productive. There has been very little krill seen out here and the water is still incredibly clear. This is typically not a good sign and generally indicates that there is little zooplankton to support the forage fishes and squid that the Brandt’s rely on.”

From April 17th Russell Bradley, M.Sc., Farallon Program Manager, PRBO Conservation Science:

“We have seen zero nesting activity yet out here, with intermittent low numbers of roosting birds, very few (if any) in colonies. No dead Brandt’s have been seen out here. Pelagic cormorants are attending sites, though not breeding yet. The Brandt’s response is very puzzling, as Cassin’s Auklets are breeding full swing and murre pre-breeding attendance has been strong. Definitely some mixed signals.”

So, IBRRC’s present theory is that these groundings of thin and weak adult cormorants are a combination of high winds, choppy seas and lack of fish. No signs of disease, seizures or anything else that would indicate something like domoic acid or Newcastle’s disease has been observed. Is it caused by climate change? Well, our climate is changing and we are seeing more of these die offs. In my 38 years plus of doing seabird rehabilitation along the coast of CA I have experienced die offs of scoters, loons, pelicans and some other species but they are clearly happening at an increased rate. I do want to point out that even as early as 50 years ago there were not rehab groups like IBRRC who took in these birds nor were there organizations like PRBO who studied seabird population levels so these types of “natural” or unnatural events may have occurred and go unnoticed. Who knows? But for sure, they are happening now. The weather and the seas are changing and that means that the animals that rely on them will have to deal with that also as we saw with the pelicans that experienced and unseasonable cold flash in Oregon and Northern CA this winter and now the cormorants.

We will keep you updated on the current situation as it changes.

– Jay Holcomb, IBRRC, Director

Latest press:

High winds blamed for sea bird strandings

April 18, 2009

New Bay Bridge will have "Corm Condos"

The long-delayed San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge project might be good for the birds too. New “Corm Condos” are being built to give cormorants a newer place to nest underneath the $6 Billion bridge.

The 2 1/2 foot wide steel perches are being added to the eastern span of the Bay Bridge at a cost of $550,000. Double-Crested Cormorants have been roosting beneath the old span for more than 20 years.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s columnist’s, Matier & Ross, poked fun at the Caltrans project in 2005: “The Bay Bridge boondoggle has something for everyone — even the birds.”


If the birds don’t take to the new digs on their own, biologists will try to entice them by painting cormorant silhouettes on the perches, playing recordings of cormorants and putting up mirrors on the platforms.

Then there’s the $750,000 that Caltrans is spending under a four-year contract for a small boat crew of binocular-armed ornithologists. Their job is to scour the old bridge for as much as 10 hours a week, keeping an official count of the cormorants along with a handful of endangered birds that inhabit the structure, including brown pelicans, peregrine falcons and least terns.

In reality, we’re trying to share the fragile bay waters with a lot of wildlife and this cost doesn’t seem to high to help the birds have new nesting areas when the old span – built in 1936 – makes way for a newer bridge in 2013. If we can spend $15 million on adding bike lanes to the bridge, another million and change seems fair.

And hello, it turns out measures to protect the cormorants are because of federal and state regulations to help native and endangered habitats.

The original Bay Bridge has been the subject of concern after since a top deck roadbed section collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17, 1989.

Read more on the Corm Condos at SFGate.com

April 16, 2009

High winds causing Cormorant strandings?

A notable spike in patients has local marine bird rescuers puzzled. In the last two days, International Bird Rescue Research Center in Northern California has received 13 stranded marine birds, mosty Brandt’s cormorants. Eleven more of the snake-necked birds are expected to arrive from San Jose, CA this afternoon.

Another oddity is that many were found in Bay Area parking lots and on roads when they should be found on beaches or jetties.

For these specialists in aquatic bird rehabilitation, a higher than normal number of patients always signifies a greater problem, as was the case this winter with the scores of ailing pelicans.

While it is premature to say exactly why so many of these birds are falling ill, Jay Holcomb, director of the aquatic bird facility believes the recent high winds may have contributed to the strandings.

This speculation that unusual weather or climate change may be impacting sea birds is supported by recent word from Farallon Islands researchers that the Brandt’s cormorants have not started nesting, as they should. The atypical winds, choppy seas, and sparse zooplankton may be the reason.

Last year researchers reported the smallest breeding population of Brandt’s with the lowest reproductive success in twenty years. Researchers hope this is not the sign of another colony failure.

The birds in convalescence are being treated for superficial wounds and are doing well. The rescue organization is asking for help from the public in reporting birds that appear injured or stranded and donations to help cover the cost of their care.

For rescues people are urged to call the California wildlife hotline at 866-WILD-911 for the nearest rescuer.

News reports:

KTVU-2: High Winds May Be Injuring Cormorants

CBS-5: High Winds Pose Threat To Sea Bird Nesting

April 13, 2009

Killing ourselves and oceans one ‘nurdle" at a time

If you want some more evidence of how messed up things have gotten in the oceans, please just take time to read this passage from Los Angeles Times’ “Altered Oceans” series:

The Los Angeles River carries enough trash each year to fill the Rose Bowl two stories high, and despite efforts to corral some of it near the river mouth, most slips through to the ocean.

Moore adjusted a trawlnet to collect trash flowing downriver. At Moore’s signal, a crane operator lifted the net out of the water. Volunteers swarmed around the trawlnet, extracted the contents and loaded them into more than a dozen jars.

The jars were filled with plastic pellets the size and shape of pills. They come in all colors and are the raw material for a vast array of plastic products, from trash bags to medical devices.

About 100 billion pounds of pellets are produced every year and shipped to Los Angeles and other manufacturing centers. Huge numbers are spilled on the ground and swept by rainfall into gutters; down storm drains, creeks and rivers; and into the ocean.

From his river sampling, Moore estimated that 236 million pellets washed down the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers in three days’ time. Also known as “nurdles” or mermaid tears, they are the most widely seen plastic debris around the world. They have washed ashore as far away as Antarctica.

The pellets, like most types of plastic, are sponges for oily toxic chemicals that don’t readily dissolve in water, such as the pesticide DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Some pellets have been found to contain concentrations of these pollutants 1 million times greater than the levels found in surrounding water.

– From the Pulitzer Prize winning 2006 series: Altered Oceans © Los Angeles Times

April 10, 2009

"Penguins, Pelicans, and People" talk in Sonoma

Jay Holcomb of IBRRC will share his stories and experiences in a lecture this month that spotlights how humans are affecting two beloved species of birds: Pelicans and Penguins.

The talk will be held on Thursday, April 16 at 7:30 PM in Sonoma and is called “Penguins, Pelicans, and People.” The suggested donation for the event is $5.

It will be held at Andrews Hall at the Sonoma Community Center: 276 E Napa St, Sonoma, CA 95476. Map

Holcomb is Executive Director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC). Under his leadership the organization has responded to over 200 oil spills including the Cosco Busan spill in San Francisco Bay in 2007. The group was born out of the 1971 oil spill at the Golden Gate when volunteers cared for hundreds of oiled animals. Read Jay Holcomb’s full bio

View Larger Map

This lecture is a joint effort with the Sonoma Community Center and Sonomabirding.org. The monthly lectures focused on birding topics. This spring, the lectures will be the foundation for a larger set of nature-related curricula including classes, outdoor adventures and a sub-series of short seminars called “The 110 Series.”

April 9, 2009

Green Apple Festival and Earth Day

Looking for Earth Day place to tap into your volunteer spirit? Check out the Green Apple Festival.

They have events all over the United States including San Francisco and Los Angeles. The events are from April 17-19, 2009.

April 2, 2009

Interview: Penguin pioneer and census taker

Nice piece in the New York Times Science Section this week with Dr. Dee Boersma, who has been studying Magellanic Penguins in Argentina since 1982.

She brings up a story that I hadn’t heard: A Japanese company went straight to the Argentine government in the 1980s and asked permission to collect penguins for the production of goods:

“We’d like a concession to harvest your penguins and turn them into oil, protein and gloves.” There was a public outcry. This was during a military dictatorship when dissidents were being thrown into the ocean from airplanes. And yet people said, “We object to having our penguins harvested.”

Boersma, a University of Washington conservation biologist, has been called the “Jane Goodall of penguins.” Dr. Boersma, 62, has spent 25 years studying penguins on one stretch of beach at Punto Tumbo, in southern Argentina.

As she says: “I’m a kind of census taker of the 200,000 breeding pairs of penguins at Punta Tombo. I track who is at home, who gets to mate, where the penguins go for the meals, their health, their behaviors.”

Read the rest of the story online

April 1, 2009

Shop at Ralphs Market? Signup to help birds

If you shop at Ralphs Supermarkets you can help us by simply signing up your Ralphs Rewards card with our organization. Every time a you shop and swipe your card, IBRRC automatically earns a rebate.

Complete signup directions are on our site

Rules on this program changed dramatically last year. You now need to sign-up online for us to receive the rebate. Please note, IBRRC’s NPO number is 82954. Signup now at Ralphs site

This is small hassle, but well worth the effort. The birds and folks at IBRRC appreciate your efforts!

April 1, 2009

Company admits 1,600 ducks died in oily waste

A Canadian company is under fire this week for under-reporting duck deaths at an oil sands plant in northern Alberta.

A Syncrude executive admitted 1,606 duck carcasses were collected from the toxic oily waters – three times more than was reported following the incident last year. The ponds contain waste from the process of separating oil from sand.

The birds died in April 2008 after becoming coated with the residual oil floating on the pond’s surface.

The company was accused of failing to prevent the birds from landing near the oily waters. The mining giant is scheduled to appear next next month in a Fort McMurray court on charges that carry up to $800,000 in combined fines. The charges also could include jail time for individuals deemed directly responsible.

Syncrude says it’s working to improve waterfowl hazing protocols in an effort to discourage waterfowl from tailing ponds areas: Details

Tar sand extraction is an important Canadian industry but environmentalists have criticized the process as having a terrible affect on birds. See: Tar Sands Mining Ravages Birds

News report:

CNN: Canada oil firm confirms 1,600 bird deaths