Every Bird Matters
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Archive for June 2010

June 20, 2010

2010 – Gulf spill response: FAQs

Oiled Pelicans before cleaning and after during 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

Oiled Pelicans before and after cleaning during wildlife response at 2010 Gulf Oil Spill.

From IBRRC’s Jay Holcomb, who is at the center of the BP Gulf oiled bird response in Louisiana:

We are almost into July and have just taken in our 600th bird here in Louisiana at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center. The majority of those birds have come into the center in the last 2 weeks when a section of oil was carried to shore near Grand Isle, LA and impacted many brown pelicans and other smaller bird species.


Cleaning oiled pelicans at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center.

Currently we have about 300 clean and beautiful brown pelicans outside in large cages getting ready for release. They are starting to be released today in groups and we will continue to release them twice a week until they are all gone. There are currently about 100 oiled pelicans in the building waiting to be washed and some smaller species of birds such as gulls and herons.

The heat here is very difficult to work in but everyone is doing well and moving the birds through the rehabilitation process. We have set up specific times for the media to come and film the birds and the work so that it limits the stress on people and animals. The media has been very cooperative with us.

I play a few roles here in Ft. Jackson and one is the External Affairs role that puts me in touch with the media and the world at large so I thought I would take this opportunity to answer some of the main questions that I am being asked daily.

Question: Where the pelicans are going to be released?

Answer: The pelicans are being flown to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Will they come back to Louisiana? There is that possibility but the US Fish & Wildlife Service has determined that this is the best place to release them at this time. It is a long way from the spill so we are hoping that they stay in the area, at least for a while. The smaller inland birds are being released in the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area just north of Lafayette as they become ready.

Q: How long is IBRRC and Tri-State Bird Rescue going to be in the Gulf of Mexico helping care for the birds?

A: Well, as long as the oil is gushing from the earth and birds are at risk of getting oiled then we will be here.

Q: Is BP supporting your efforts to care for the oiled birds?

A: Yes, BP is the responsible party and is paying for all the costs associated with the care and rehabilitation of oiled birds. IBRRC and Tri-State Bird Rescue are hired to manage the rehabilitation program for the oiled birds from this spill so in actuality we are contractors for BP.

Q: What will the success rate be for oiled brown pelicans?

A: It’s impossible to predict the future but these are very healthy and strong birds and have a good chance at surviving the rehabilitation process. The majority of these birds are handling the stress of oiling, washing and rehabilitation extremely well, as expected. Over 300 of them have been cleaned and are in outside aviaries at this time getting ready for release. Brown pelicans typically have a high survival rate in oil spills when they are captured early on and given the appropriate care, as has happened here to date. I expect the majority of them to make it but time will tell and we will report on these birds as we move through the spill.

See also: Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill detailed wildlife reports

Q: How can people help or donate?

A: Well, as I have said before, we currently have plenty of help and are not in need of volunteers. As well as the Tri-State and IBRRC response teams, wildlife paraprofessionals from the Gulf Coast States are supplementing our workforce. In Louisiana, this is being coordinated by LSART (Louisiana State Animal Response Team).

Regarding donating to the cause, there are pelicans and thousands of other wild animals all over the country that need help and are cared for by wildlife rehabilitators. I urge everyone to locate their local wildlife rehabilitation organization and support them and their great work in helping our precious wildlife get a second chance at life. Check with your state department of Fish and Game and they can help you locate a worthy wildlife rehabilitation organization.

Beware of the NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) that claim they are raising money to help either restore the gulf or set up mass volunteer networks for spill response. Everyone wants a piece of this pie and a number of these groups who have never done much about oil spill response in the past are now asking for money, holding fundraising events, telethons etc. and using many tactics including celebrity endorsement and the media. They are opportunistic and take advantage of every oil spill or big disaster and I strongly urge you just to be cautious. Before you donate ask how and where your money will be spent before you give.

Again, the real unsung and under-funded heroes who help wildlife around this country are the wildlife rehabilitation organizations who work 24/7 to care for our precious wildlife. They are hands on, on the front lines and the results of their efforts can be witnessed every time they release a rehabilitated animal back into the wild. My strong suggestion is that you support these organizations if you really want to help wildlife!

Thanks for visiting our blog. I will be in touch soon with more news and to answer more questions and share more pictures.

– Jay Holcomb, Executive Director, IBRRC


International Bird Rescue Response Teams starting working in Gulf Coast within days of the Deepwater Horizon well blow out on April 20, 2010. With nearly 40 years of experience on more than 200 spills, IBRRC brings a wide variety of skills working with oiled wildlife.

Photo cleaning Roseate Spoonbill at Gulf Oil Spill in 2010 by International Bird Rescue

Response team members clean a Roseate Spoonbill of oil at Fort Jackson Center, Louisiana. Courtesy photo: © Brian Epstein

June 17, 2010

CNN report: Cleaning oiled birds in Louisiana

Duane Titus talks to CNN’s Anderson Cooper on his visit today to see the ongoing oiled bird care at the Fort Jackson Wildlife Center in Buras, Louisiana.

As of noon today, 634 oiled birds have been captured, 783 dead birds collected and 42 have been released – mainly in Florida. Official wildlife numbers available each day around Noon CDT.

June 10, 2010

Post release survival of oil affected sea birds

From Jay Holcomb, IBRRC’s Executive Director:

Hi everyone. We are very busy here in Louisiana at the gulf oil spill, but doing well. We are washing the very oiled pelicans and other birds that you have seen on TV and most of them are doing very well. More on that aspect of our work later. I want to address a few issues that have come up in the media recently. First of all, let me say that this is the time during an oil spill that the skeptics come out. These “experts” are quoted and their opinions, no matter how ill researched or biased they are, become controversial and newsworthy. I spent much time during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, 21 years ago, and in every other oil spill since then addressing them and I now just consider this a part of the politics of an oil spill.

For those who are concerned about the survival rates of oiled birds, based on recent news coverage (or the outdated studies they cite), I’d like to address the topic head-on. I am writing from personal experience, as a veteran of more than 200 oil spills, and as a representative of one of the foremost oiled bird rescue and research organizations in the world. IBRRC and Tri-State Bird Rescue–who is leading the Gulf response effort–host a bi-annual conference on the Effects of Oil on Wildlife, and, as such, are well versed in the latest science. The “experts” that I am referring to rarely, if ever, attend this global forum for oiled wildlife professionals, nor do they attempt to learn about advancements and successes in oiled wildlife rehabilitation.

How well do birds survive in the wild when they have been oiled and rehabilitated?

Recent studies (a few of which are listed below) indicate that birds can be successfully rehabilitated and returned to the wild, where many survive for years and breed.

The papers cited by opponents of oiled bird rehabilitation—like Oregon’s biologist Brian Sharp’s infamous 1996 report “Post Release Survival of Oiled, Cleaned Seabirds in North America” Ibis. Vol. 138:222-228—tend to rely on anecdotal band returns (meaning there is no daily tracking method for individuals released and no control groups observed.) These surveys are misleading because they fail to consider some important variables: the protocols used to care for the birds in question, the experience of the organization caring for the oiled birds and basic things like how the bird’s health and water proofing were assessed prior to release.

Simply put, one would not lump together the survival rates of human patients receiving emergency trauma care between two hospitals like Mogadishu’s Madina Hospital and New York’s Bellevue Hospital. Yet surveys like Sharp’s do just that, they lump together released birds treated at various centers, under different conditions, with different resources and experience levels.

Studies support oiled, properly treated sea birds

A growing number of studies using radio telemetry, satellite tracking and long-term breeding colony observations are more accurately illustrating the post oiling survival of sea birds:

Wolfaardt, A.C. and D.C. Nel. 2003, Breeding Productivity and Annual cycle of Rehabilitated African Penguin Following Oiling. Rehabilitation of oiled African Penguins: A Conservation Success Story.

Newman, S.H., Golightly, R.T., H.R. Carter, E.N. Craig, and J.K. Mazet 2001, Post-Release Survival of Common Murres (Uria aalge) Following the Stuyvesant Oil Spill.

Golightly. R.T., S.H. Newman, E.N. Craig, H.R. Carter and J.K. Mazet. 2002, Survival and Behavior of Western Gulls Following Exposure to Oil and Rehabilitation.

Anderson, D.W., F. Gress, and D.M. Fry 1996, Survival and dispersal of oiled Brown Pelicans after rehabilitation and release.

These studies indicate that many seabirds do survive the oiling and rehabilitation process successfully returning to their wild condition. And in some cases (when birds are located and observed in breeding colonies) have been shown to breed successfully for many years following their oiling, rehabilitation and release. These studies show that a bird’s survival is often based on how a specific species can cope with the stress of the entire process from oiling to rehabilitation, and that their overall survivorship across species is far greater than Sharp’s assertions. As survivorship may be correlated to individual species it is irresponsible to draw conclusions of survivability from one species to another, rather, in depth studies must be conducted for each species considered if we are to begin to answer this question with any measure of reliability.

Pelicans handle stress better than most birds

In regards to pelicans specifically, IBRRC works year-round with brown pelicans at our two rescue centers in California, treating, on average, 500 injured, sick and oiled pelicans every year. Our release rate on these animals is 80% or higher for general rehabilitation. Pelicans, like penguins, can tolerate the stress of rehabilitation much better than birds like loons and murres for example. All of our birds (including pelicans) are federally tagged upon release. Sightings and band recoveries indicate that a high percentage of them survive. One recent example was a brown pelican, oiled and rehabilitated, during the American Trader spill in 1990 in Southern California. This bird was sighted still alive in Newport Beach earlier this year, 20 years on, and is considered one of the oldest brown pelicans ever recorded.

While this is just one bird it is a good example of the type of band returns we see from oiled and non-oiled pelicans. Of course it’s important to also remember that it is these individual birds that make up populations. At the ‘New Carissa’ oil spill in Oregon in 1999, the snowy plover population in Coos Bay was 30-45 birds. We captured 31 and rehabilitated all of them. They are an intensely studied bird and each one is considered valuable to the species. Studies of the birds showed that there was no difference in the mortality of these previously oiled birds to those never oiled.

What gives IBRRC, and Tri-State Bird Rescue, the best chance to make a difference to threatened species during oil spills is the year-round dedication to saving individual lives that has been at the heart of our mission for nearly 40 years. This approach has helped us to develop teams of trained animal care and oiled wildlife professionals that understand the intricacies of this specific field of rehabilitation and continually strive to improve our techniques as well as build a more comprehensive scientific picture of our work over time.

June 8, 2010

IBRRC’s Jay Holcomb Earns Ocean Hero Award

IBRRC executive director Jay Holcomb was named Oceana’s Ocean Hero for 2010. Holcomb is currently leading IBRRC’s bird rescue effort in the Gulf, working alongside Tri-State Bird Rescue to care for wildlife caught in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Ocean Heroes contest was created in 2009 to recognize individuals making a difference for the ocean, with winners announced on World Oceans Day. This year, Oceana also named a group of Junior Ocean Heroes, honoring The Shark Finatics from Green Chimney High School in New York.

“We are proud to honor these everyday people who are making a difference for the ocean,” says Oceana’s CEO Andrew Sharpless. “In light of the disaster in the Gulf and the state of the oceans worldwide, we need people like the Holcomb and the Finatics to continue their work and inspire others to get involved.”

Oceana’s 2010 Ocean Heroes contest was launched in March, when the general public was invited to submit nominations. Finalists were selected by a panel of experts from Oceana, and the public was invited to vote online to select the winners.

Holcomb is a lifelong California resident who has been passionate about the ocean since his childhood along the coast. He began his career at the Marin Humane Society and then helped found the rehabilitation program at the Marin Wildlife Center. He joined IBRRC in 1986 with 20 years of animal rehabilitation experience, and has responded to over 200 oil spills around the world, including the 1989 Exxon Valdez and the 1979 Gulf spills.

“It is particularly poignant that I have won this award in the midst of the greatest oil spill in U.S. history,” said Holcomb. “My career stems from a passion that has burned in me since I was a child. I have always approached my work as trying to change the world one bird at a time. My hope is that this award reminds people that whatever we can do personally to protect our ocean does make a difference, no matter how overwhelming the task may seem at times.”

Given his busy schedule on the ground in the Gulf, Holcomb has limited availability for interviews.

Oceana campaigns to protect and restore the world’s oceans. Its teams of marine scientists, economist, lawyers and advocates win specific and concrete policy changes to reduce pollution and to prevent the irreversible collapse of fish populations, marine mammals and other sea life. More at oceana.org

June 8, 2010

Heavily oiled birds and response "blame game"

With more oiled birds coming into Gulf Oiled Wildlife Centers each day, Executive Director, Jay Holcomb, takes time to update and explain the spill response from IBRRC’s perspective:

As you can see we have had a significant spike in the number of birds that we are receiving in the Ft. Jackson center here in Louisiana. (See: Updated bird numbers) This is because a section of the oil slick has come to shore near Grand Isle and birds living in that area are now being impacted. Many of the birds that you have seen on the news are birds that are currently here at the center. I know that it is heartbreaking to see these pictures, but they are an accurate and true depiction of what is going on here. Nothing is worse than an innocent animal covered in oil helplessly struggling to survive. Heavily oiled birds always become the symbol of any oil spill when images are taken and that is appropriate as they clearly show what can happen in a massive spill. 

We have been busy here working with the birds and putting in long hours so I do not always get the time to write on the blog but there are a few things I wanted to share with our readers.

First, the pelicans that are here are in good health but very heavily oiled. I tell the media that they look like they are fondued – more or less dipped in the oil. That is because the fish they eat often swim and hide below floating surface oil and when the pelicans plunge into the water to catch them, they become oiled. A few of our field teams have witnessed this and actually seen fish jumping onto the oil and then watch as a gull or pelican goes after it and then becomes oiled. The ocean here is teaming with fish so it stands to reason that this would happen. The things that are working in our favor are that these are healthy and strong birds and the oil is aged enough so that it does not have much smell to it or volatile aromatics. That is the better part of this but what is a problem for the birds and us is that the oil is very gooey and thick. It is taking about 45 minutes to an hour to wash each bird as we have to pre-treat the birds with a warmer light oil to loosen the crude oil up and then wash the bird using DAWN dishwashing liquid. Lots of it! We are getting it off but it takes some scrubbing.

Another thing in the birds favor is that it is very warm this time of year and the birds are able to survive longer than birds in colder climates. This is in the birds favor but is debilitating for the people working on the birds. We have to shift our people and it’s a difficult situation for us in that respect. The other birds such as gulls and herons have a more difficult time with being this oiled. A few have died so far but many are making it also. They require a lot of supportive care.

I also want to mention the great people that are here helping to care for the birds. There are the response team members of Tri-state Bird Rescue Research Inc. and our team from IBRRC but also many individuals that are part of the Louisiana State Animal Rescue Team (LSART). The LSART helps us by bringing in people from all backgrounds including wildlife rehabilitators and veterinarians that are all based in Louisiana. They are making up a large part of the work force and are really great. I need to mention that it is very important to give these people the opportunity to contribute first to helping offset the impact of the spill by helping us. They survived Hurricane Katrina and are now dealing with this situation. So, in that sense it’s appropriate that we use local resources first to fill in the ranks of our expanded rehab teams. As I have mentioned before, there are literally thousands of people who have been wait-listed who want to help. They will be called in as needed but so far they are not. It’s as simple as that.

I also feel the need to mention the “blame game” that I am not a stranger to. As you may have seen, I play a few key roles here at the Ft. Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. First, I provide oversight for the rehabilitation program as I have had many years of experience in managing large scale oiled wildlife rehabilitation efforts and can use that experience to our advantage. Secondly, I took on the role of External Affairs person because I knew that this would be an explosive and political situation when I first heard of this incident and therefore I felt that I was best suited to act as the voice for our efforts to rehabilitate these birds. So, I manage the intense media attention that has been put on the rehabilitation program. I like the media and I can speak to them from a historical perspective, a wildlife rehabilitation perspective and from a place of transparency as I agree that the world needs to see what is happening in this situation here in the gulf.

We have been allowing the media into the center every day from 1 to 2pm, usually longer, in the afternoon to do interviews, see the birds and get the stories. Now that we are getting very busy we are changing that to 3 times a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1 to 3pm just so we can focus on the birds as giving the media their fair time takes a lot of attention away from our work. I request that everyone understand that this has been put into place for the sake of the animals and respect our new schedule.

Lets talk about the blame game real quick before I hit the sack. One of the questions I get every day from reporters is, “How does this spill compare to the Exxon Valdez oil spill?” well, there are many similarities and differences. Most notably the environment, weather and species impacted are vastly different but what is similar are the politics. This a big spill with a large oil company, a lot of scrutiny and a lot of people blaming each other. That is what it is but it was just a matter of time until the wildlife rehabilitators got blamed also. I knew this going into it. IBRRC and Tri-State are contracted by BP to manage the rehabilitation of the birds that are oiled in this spill so some think that we have signed over our rights as independent organizations. Nothing is farther from the truth. We have worked with the oil industry or whoever is the responsible party since 1971 to provide our unique, proven and qualified services of rehabilitating oiled birds and other wildlife. Collectively our organizations have responded to about 400 oil spills ranging from tens of thousands of birds to just a few and may I humbly state that we are the most qualified groups in the world to manage a program such as this one. We work very well together and become one large team in large-scale events such as this oil spill.

Our amazing founder, Alice Berkner, always said to me that the reason that she got involved in this work was because she felt somewhat responsible as a credit card holder of the company who was responsible for the spill in 1971 that initiate the founding of IBRRC. (See: Founders Perspective) I have always felt that way also. Her bottom line was that we all use oil products but are quick to pass the buck when oil is spilled and that seemed irresponsible. She was transparent in her initial approach to the petroleum industry. Alice wanted to help the birds with protocols based in sound science and manage oiled wildlife rehab programs with proven crisis management systems, so she created IBRRC to do just that. Instead of attacking the oil industry for the spills, which everyone else was doing, she gave them a solution and that was to use IBRRC to help offset some of the damage that oil spills do to the environment as no one was doing that back then. That began a steep learning curve that is still going on today and we have managed to improve the care we give to the birds immensely over the years.

So, here we are, almost 40 years on with a lot of experience and expertise under our belts and something we can offer to once again help in the clean up of the spill by helping these animals that really are our collective responsibility to care for. They belong to us, they are precious and they need our help. Here in Louisiana we are caring for them as best we know how right now in 2010. We will be blamed for our association with the oil industry, accused of selling out etc. We already have been. It’s nothing new to us. So, for the blamers out there please keep in mind that as you drive your car or are reading this on your computer that your life was made a hell of a lot easier because of oil and we all have benefited greatly from it. So who is to blame? No one! BP is accountable for their accident here in the gulf and they are being held accountable, as they should be. But we the people are also accountable as consumers of the products the petroleum industry provides us and maybe the silver lining in this horrific and catastrophic event is that people will wake up and ask themselves this question. “Is the cost of exploring for, using and transporting fossil fuels and their byproducts worth the risk?” Look at that iconic picture of the gull covered in oil from this spill. If you can live with that, drive your car, discard your plastic water bottles and tell your kids that it is all OK then go for it. If not then change the future through taking some level of responsibility about what has happened, use your brain, your intent and your desire to change the future of how we fuel our world. Stop blaming everyone for what you had a hand in creating. No one is right or wrong here. We are all in this together. It’s just about the choices we make, individually and collectively, and maybe its time to evaluate those choices. Everything is an opportunity and maybe that is the opportunity that this spill is providing for us.– a chance to reevaluate how we move into the future and protect our earth while enjoying our lives. Think about it.

Its 4 am and I am going to get a tiny bit of shut eye.

Later! – Jay, from Fort Jackson, Louisiana

International Bird Rescue is working with the main responder, Tri-State Bird Rescue of Delaware. IBRRC more than 20 response team members on the ground including veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitation managers and facilities and capture specialists.

The oil spill involves a ruptured drilling platform approximately 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. The drilling rig, the Deepwater Horizon, exploded on April 20, 2010 and sank in 5,000 feet of water. More than 100 workers scrambled off the burning rig in lifeboats. 11 workers died.

At least 40 million gallons of crude has been dumped into the Gulf of Mexico and harmed fragile breeding grounds for Brown Pelicans and other shorebirds. Six weeks after the blow out, BP has yet to significantly stem the flow in the nation’s worst oil disaster.

June 4, 2010

Update from the center of Gulf oiled bird care

The numbers of severely oiled birds jumped yesterday and Jay Holcomb returns with his updates from the BP Gulf Oil Spill wildlife response:

Well, I am sure by now you have all seen the pictures of the oiled birds that were captured in Grand Isle, Louisiana. We are busy today with those birds and I have been delinquent in writing current blog postings. I will begin again tonight and keep you all updated. 

Please know that we are all doing well here, unhappy like you that this is happening, but we have a great master plan to offset as much damage to the birds as we can. For those of you who are asking about ways that you can either support us or donate to us, I thank you for your generosity. I also want you all to understand that this entire oiled bird rehabilitation effort is being paid for by BP. This is appropriate as they are the Responsible Party for this spill.

If you would like to send donations then please keep in mind that your local wildlife rehabilitation organization really needs your help also. They care for the same wild animals that are being impacted by the spill. A pelican is a pelican whether is it tangled in fishing tackle or oiled! Please send support to your local wildlife rehabilitation organizations. You can also support IBRRC and Tri-State’s ongoing bird rehabilitation efforts if you like and that information is available on our web sites.

Talk to you very soon,

– Jay Holcomb, IBRRC Executive Director from Fort Jackson, Louisiana

International Bird Rescue is working with the main responder, Tri-State Bird Rescue of Delaware. IBRRC more than 20 response team members on the ground including veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitation managers and facilities and capture specialists.

The oil spill involves a ruptured drilling platform approximately 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. The drilling rig, the Deepwater Horizon, exploded on April 20, 2010 and sank in 5,000 feet of water. More than 100 workers scrambled off the burning rig in lifeboats. 11 workers died.

At least 40 million gallons of crude has been dumped into the Gulf of Mexico and harmed fragile breeding grounds for Brown Pelicans and other shorebirds. Six weeks after the blow out, BP has yet to significantly stem the flow in the nation’s worst oil disaster.

June 4, 2010

Distressed oiled birds emerge in worst U.S. spill

The images are haunting this week in the unabated BP Gulf oil leak as video and photos of heavily oil coated birds flash across the screen for all the world to see. (Above: CBS-TV News Video)

By Thursday afternoon still photographs taken by Charlie Riedel of the Associated Press showed images of multiple distressed seabirds caught in an oil slick on Louisiana’s East Grand Terre Island. See more: Boston.Com’s The Big Picture

For many these are the first horrific images they’ve seen; it surely will not be the last as the 6 week oil leak continues to spew crude in the Gulf Of Mexico.

June 1, 2010

Video report: Saving one brown pelican at a time

Nice video produced by The Miami Herald to understand the oiled bird washing going on at the Fort Jackson Wildlife Care Center in Louisiana.

Narrated by IBRRC’s Jay Holcomb (misidentified as Exec Director for Tri-State Bird Rescue) and Dr. Erica Miller who is staff veterinarian Tri-State.

International Bird Rescue and Tri-State are teaming up to handle the bird rescue response at the Gulf Oil Leak. Our 20+ staff are spread over four Gulf area states: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

The massive oil leak involves a ruptured well head approximately 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. The drilling rig, the Deepwater Horizon, exploded on April 20, 2010 and sank in 5,000 feet of water. More than 100 workers scrambled off the burning rig in lifeboats. 11 workers died in the explosion and fire.