Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Archive for January 2011

January 25, 2011

Natural Oil Seep Prompts Bird Rescue in Calif.

Nearly 50 oiled birds have been in care this month at International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) after being coated with oil in a natural seep event along the Southern California coast.

Since January 6, 2011, IBRRC has received 28 Western Grebes, 18 Common Murres, a Common Loon, a Pacific Loon and a Clark’s Grebe.

IBRRC receives many birds that are contaminated with natural seep oil in our rehabilitation clinics year round. Birds are often severely impacted by this heavy, sticky oil, and it presents numerous challenges to our rehabilitation staff.

Oil seeps occur naturally all along the coast of California, notably in the Santa Barbara Channel near Coal Oil Point. This area emits about 5,280 to 6,600 gallons of oil per day. Natural seeps have been active for hundreds to thousands of years and have been documented by early explorers and by coast-dwelling Chumash Indians who used the oil in many ways including waterproofing baskets and constructing wooden canoes.

Impact to Birds

Oil can be lethally harmful to seabirds—particularly to diving birds that spend a great deal of time on the surface of the water where the oil sits. It interferes with the birds’ ability to maintain their body temperature by impairing the natural insulation and waterproofing properties of their feathers, which can result in loss of body weight, as their metabolisms try to combat the cold, and death from hypothermia. Oiled birds often beach themselves in this weakened state, and consequently become easy prey for other animals.

Preparing for Natural Seep Oiled Birds

Each bird that is impacted by natural seep oil is part of a larger population, but we know that every one is important in its own right and deserves the best possible care. We also know, from 40 years of experience, to anticipate these birds every year, with the largest number of birds coming in during the winter months. At this time of year, storms tend to move seep oil around while large numbers of migratory birds are utilizing offshore areas as their feeding grounds. Since their arrival at our rehabilitation clinics is predictable, we have endeavored to schedule our international interns around the birds’ arrival so that our trainees can be immersed in the complexities of oiled bird rehabilitation. The interns get invaluable, one-of-a-kind experience and the birds get the highest quality care.

Who pays for their care?

IBRRC has received natural seep oiled birds since our inception in 1971. As this is considered a “natural” event, with no responsible party, IBRRC and other wildlife rehabilitation organizations rely on the public to help cover the costs of caring for these birds. In recent years California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) has generously provided some funding, however, the remaining cost is substantial in stormy years like this one when more natural seep oil is dispersed along the coast.

January 25, 2011

Jay Holcomb’s 25 years of IBRRC leadership

Dear friends,

On January 10, 2011, I officially turned the reins of International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) over to Paul Kelway. He is now the Executive Director of IBRRC, functioning in an updated and reconstructed position that will allow him to lead the organization into the future. I am certain that he will do this very well, as he is a compassionate, intelligent and capable person. I will be working with him, the staff and our Board of Directors on a daily basis, but Paul holds the responsibility of guiding IBRRC and meeting its mission.

I want to share with you something that I think is important. Earlier this year I received two awards that are meaningful to the field of wildlife rehabilitation and conservation and wanted to explain to you why I think that they are significant. I was hard at work with the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico last summer when Oceana’s Ocean Hero award was given to me, so I was not in the position to say much about it. I was really honored to receive it and I love what it stands for. Then in September 2010, I also received the John Muir Conservationist of the Year award. I realized that although these awards honored me, they were actually acknowledging the message of our work, “recognizing animals and nature as important and worthy of our attention.”

I am a wildlife rehabilitator; that’s been my career and my life. All I have ever wanted to get across was the value, importance and beauty of animals, and to accept some accountability and responsibility for their welfare – especially when they are impacted by human activity. This desire was born out of watching and befriending animals as a kid, and by listening to disturbing things that people thought of them. Very early in my life, I became aware that I had a sense of purpose that I could not shake– nor did I want to – so I just lived as I was compelled to. At age 5 or so, I became aware of an intense desire to help animals but had no idea how to make it happen. I held that knowingness in my mind, knew it would happen, and basically allowed it to unfold in front of me. I spent the next 40 years or so working with companion animals and rehabilitating wild animals.

In a nutshell, that’s how it happened for me. I want everyone to know that these two awards are really a major win for wildlife rehabilitation and for the preservation of nature. I mean, I’m a coot, raccoon and gull (very common species) rehabilitator being recognized as a Hero and Conservationist of the Year in the name of the great John Muir? That in itself is extraordinary, because if you look at my achievements you will see that they are all about helping “common” individual wild animals – animals that are discarded as unimportant. I guarantee you that this is exactly how they are held in the minds of most people. If that were not true, then we would not have endangered species and massive loss of habitat. That evidence is all around us and it points to our own attitudes. Early on, I became aware of the skewed outlook that many people had about animals and nature. I have always felt that all life is equal, and the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, are held in nature and in the simplest of animals. They should be revered, protected and adored as they are the most misunderstood living things on earth, yet carry sacred knowledge that we all want and strive to understand. Who are we? What’s it all about? Just look at all of the religious figures and naturalists alike who went into nature and observed it to find the answers to all of their deepest questions and challenges.

The fact that two prestigious conservation organizations have recognized me, a simple wildlife rehabilitator who sees all animals as equal and deserving of our compassion, means that they too consider wildlife rehabilitation a valid endeavor.

During the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill I was constantly asked by reporters, “Why is it important to care for these animals?” I think it’s obvious, but clearly not everyone does. Keep in mind that two highly respected environmental organizations, Oceana and the John Muir Society, just recognized a wildlife rehabilitator and his work in putting the common and simple animals on the pedestal by honoring me with these awards. That is why these awards are valid and important; they recognize a wildlife rehabilitator who has spent a great portion of his life caring for all animals, endangered to common, and sees the value in all of them.

In essence, my life has been living my message to the world; it always has been. The last 25 years have been a wild ride that took me all over the world, exposed horrible atrocities to me, and allowed me to touch and help wild animals – a privilege that I have never taken for granted. IBRRC became an avenue for me to express myself and carry on my mission. I am beyond grateful to IBRRC’s founder, Alice Berkner, for seeing something in me and bringing me on board in 1986, and for all that IBRRC has given me! You can be a great writer or painter, but without paper or canvas you are just a dreamer. My canvas has been IBRRC, and I will never forget that without it I would have been just another dreamer.

Another thing I learned from nature was to evolve myself, as nature does. I am doing that by letting go of the directorship of IBRRC, and am now the Director Emeritus and ready for whatever that brings. I don’t know how it will unfold but I think the upcoming year will bring about great opportunities for IBRRC and me. I officially close this chapter and open a new one.

That’s all for now. Power to the coots, the raccoons and the gulls . . . all the animals . . . even the starlings!

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC)

January 18, 2011

Remembering the 1971 San Francisco Bay oil spill

From clockwise, an oiled Grebe on the beach off San Francisco Bay, one of the ships involved in the collision in the fog, and IBRRC founder, Alice Berkner.

Hello everyone,

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Oregon Standard Oil Spill, the massive 800,000 gallon spill that occurred in San Francisco Bay in 1971. The concept of International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) was born in the midst of the spill because it was clear way back in 1971 that oil spills were becoming a part of our reality, and after a quick review it was evident that no organization had developed effective techniques to care for oiled birds. IBRRC was created to do just that – develop techniques and protocols to humanely treat and rehabilitate oiled birds.

IBRRC’s Founder Alice Berkner, and a handful of others, came up with the concept of IBRRC while trying to help the more than 7,000 birds that filled warehouses around the Bay Area. Most of those birds died, but their deaths were not in vain. The demise of these birds only encouraged people to try harder, and by April of 1971 IBRRC was incorporated as a non-profit organization.

Since then, tens of thousands of animals have been recovered and given a second chance thanks to IBRRC and because of one person’s vision and focus. On behalf of all of us who have followed in your path, thank you Alice for your passion and vision, and for creating IBRRC.

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue Research Center

January 14, 2011

Thank you for helping rescue birds!

Dear Friend of IBRRC,

Happy 2011 and thank you so much for your support in 2010!

Thanks to donors like you, International Bird Rescue Research Center raised enough funds in the last week of December to meet our $15,000 matching goal. We are thrilled with this news, as that translates into $30,000 to help treat the sick and injured birds arriving daily in our rescue centers.

We never know when the next wildlife emergency will strike, sending stricken birds to our doors, but thanks to the generosity of IBRRC donors like you, we can be prepared to care for them whenever they arrive.

In 2010, we treated nearly 5,000 birds in our two centers – everything from pelicans to tiny sandpipers to lesser-known fulmars. Last month we also cared for a tundra swan that was found cold and weak in a farmer’s field.

Thank you so much for helping make our work possible and best wishes for a peaceful and happy new year.


Paul Kelway, Executive Director
Jay Holcomb, Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC)

Photo by Kurtis Diffenbaugh

January 6, 2011

New year, new roles for IBRRC leaders

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year! As we usher in 2011, International Bird Rescue Research Center is looking forward to a number of very exciting changes that will allow us to continue growing our bird rehabilitation, research and education programs. Our 40th anniversary is coming up in April, and we have many accomplishments to celebrate, thanks to your ongoing support. But there is always more we can do, and to that end, after over 25 years at the helm of IBRRC, I am moving into a new role as Director Emeritus, where I can devote my time more fully to building our bird rescue and rehabilitation programs, while Paul Kelway (photo, on the left) takes over as Executive Director.

Paul has been working with IBRRC since he and I met at an oil spill in France at the beginning of 2000. He worked for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) as their ER Manager for Oiled Wildlife for a number of years before actually joining the IBRRC staff in October 2009. He will be leading the organization through an exciting evolution, as we prepare for another 40 years making a difference to the lives of aquatic birds. After 25 years on the front lines of oil spills, algal blooms, and weird weather events, I know the need for dedicated and professional bird rescue is as great as ever, and I look forward to working closely with Paul, and all of you, to meet that need and ensure every single bird we treat has the best possible care.

We’ve come a long way in 40 years. We have responded to over 200 oil spills and cared for tens of thousands of birds that needed help. I know that together we can do even more going forward!


Jay Holcomb, Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC)

A note from Paul Kelway, IBRRC’s new executive director

Dear Friends of IBRRC,

I am humbled and honored to have been asked by Jay and the IBRRC Board to follow in both his and our founder Alice Berkener’s footsteps as Executive Director of International Bird Rescue Research Center and certainly hope to do all I can to build on the organization’s tremendous achievements to date. I am also delighted that Jay will continue to serve the organization as Director Emeritus where his vast experience and expertise can continue to benefit the lives of aquatic birds as we work together to keep building IBRRC’s rescue and rehabilitation capabilities.

We’ve had a whirlwind 2010, from storm-battered pelicans to the unprecedented Deepwater Horizon oil spill and we are excited to now be starting a fresh chapter in 2011. We will be sprucing up our website, and are excited to debut a new name and look in the spring that reflects our growth over the past 40 years. We will also be working to create a strong foundation that will carry IBRRC through the next four decades. From oil spills and ocean dead zones to climate change, there are many threats to marine wildlife health, and we want to be prepared to meet these and future challenges head-on by providing the best possible care to aquatic birds in need.

With the help of dedicated volunteers and generous individual donors, corporate sponsors, and government partners, we have made huge strides since the 1970’s. And we hope you will help us build on that legacy of success in 2011 and in the years ahead.


Paul Kelway, Executive Director
International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC)

January 2, 2011

Caring for Birds 365 Days a Year

Photo Baby bird chick in care at International Bird RescueInternational Bird Rescue (Bird Rescue) is a leader in oiled bird rescue, and our highly trained staff have responded to more than 200 oil spills around the country and the world. But we also care for injured, oiled or orphaned wild birds year-round at our Los Angeles center, located in San Pedro, and San Francisco Bay center, located on the edge of the Suisun Marsh in Cordelia.

Working with a variety of birds every day enables Bird Rescue staff to continue growing our skills and improving rehabilitation protocols so we are ready to respond when a crisis like the Exxon Valdez or Gulf oil spill occurs. Our bird rescue centers are integral parts of California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), and we also maintain the Alaska Wildlife Response Center (AWRC) located in Anchorage. For the latest news from our bird rescue centers, please visit our Every Bird Matters blog.