Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Archive for June 2011

June 23, 2011

Aiuká – International Partners Saving Lives

Our international oil spill responses have been challenging over the years, but have brought us both incredible opportunities to learn about other species and to develop rewarding relationships with new colleagues.

After meeting Brazil’s Dr. Valeria Ruoppolo over 12 years ago, she quickly became an important member of International Fund for Animal Welfare’s oiled wildlife team  (co-managed by International Bird Rescue) and Dr. Rodolfo Silva soon joined the fold. They both have played key roles alongside our staff in managing efforts in South Africa, Spain, Norway, Estonia, Argentina, Chile and the Galapagos Islands.

Last year Drs. Ruoppolo and Silva realized their dream of founding a Brazil-based organization to respond to oiled wildlife events, help companies with wildlife related issues, and do ongoing research in the field of wildlife rehabilitation and veterinary medicine.

The company, called Aiuká, partners with International Bird Rescue for tier three responses, in the event that a large oil spill overwhelms their in-country resources. In this situation, International Bird Rescue would be called in to help manage the event however needed.

Brazil has a wide variety of unique and amazing plants and animals. This adult, male, Brown-Throated Sloth (Bradypus variegatus) was discovered covered in oil and clinging to a truck after a collision that may have forced him from his tree. The animal was captured and rehabilitated by Aiuká in what is, as far as we know, the world’s first recorded case of a Sloth affected by an oil spill.

The Sloth was washed clean at the veterinary school CETAS Unimonte, and was transferred to Horto Florestal near São Vicente to recover for two days before being released in Itanhaém where it was discovered.

Aiuká’s expert handling of this animal shows how the knowledge and experience gained in responding to oil spills as a part of a collaborative response team can touch lives all around the world.

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue


June 17, 2011

Gulf Spill Pelicans Spotted Nesting in Georgia

Last year International Bird Rescue spent 6 months helping to manage oiled bird rehabilitation efforts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone saw the disturbing pictures of the heavily-oiled pelicans captured in Louisiana. Over 90% of those birds were rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Because the Gulf area was so highly-impacted with oil, authorities decided to release pelicans as far away as Georgia to offer them the best chance for survival.

The following article tells the story of some of these pelicans, now nesting and raising young in Georgia. It proves what we have known for years, that many rehabilitated birds not only survive but go on to breed – it’s just not easy to document this once they are released, as they scatter to the wind. To make future identification of birds from this particular spill easier, they were fitted with large, colored plastic leg bands. These bands are paying off, and the birds recognized in Georgia are just a small representation of all of the birds that we released. Hopefully, there will be many more sightings this year.

Oil spill pelicans are having babies on Ga. coast – Florida Wires – MiamiHerald.com



June 13, 2011

Photographers in Focus – Robyn Carter

Welcome to International Bird Rescue’s inaugural edition of Photographers in Focus, our tribute to the wildlife photographers who further inspire our passion for bird rehabilitation.

Robyn Carter

Robyn Carter first caught our attention on the web a few months ago for her almost portrait-like shots of a kingfisher and a rehabilitated New Zealand gannet — equally striking in color and in black-and-white.

A resident of Marlborough, New Zealand, Carter has wide-ranging interests in wildlife photography — anything from a possum to a South Island weka. She exhibits a tremendous love of nature and animal diversity; that she is hearing impaired may help explain such sensitivity. “I am profoundly deaf, but have a cochlear implant,” she writes. “I use my eyes to hear (lipread), and have no doubt that because of my increased reliance of vision to ‘hear’, that this allows me to see what others often miss.”

We recently caught up with Carter to learn some behind-the-scenes details on her fantastic shots.

Andrew Harmon
Board of Directors
International Bird Rescue

1) How did you get into wildlife photography?

Accidentally really. My first camera was a Canon EOS 500 film, and I just happened to take a really good photo of a NZ fantail. It got so much admiration from all and sundry that from then on my love was wildlife. Not being able to travel very much, a lot of it is at wildlife parks and zoos, and animal rescue centres.

Australasian Gannet - Robyn Carter

2) Your photo of the gannet is simply amazing. Where did you shoot it?

The Gannet was actually rescued off a boat the morning I visited the Bird Lady of Auckland. Sylvia Durrant devotes her time and energy to rescuing and rehabilitating birds. I was up there taking photos of various baby birds when she suddenly flings open a box, grabs this huge gannet out, wrests its beak open and says to me “here – grab that fish and stick it down its throat!” So camera got put down, huge fish in hand, and shoved down bird’s throat. Not a usual morning for me in any shape or form!! I then picked up my camera fishy hands and all, and took 3 photos of the bird before the lid went back down again. This was the only one that turned out!

3) What camera do you use?

Kingfisher - Robyn Carter

I use the Canon 7D which I’ve now had for a year. I chose this for the 1.6 cropping factor (gets me closer to wildlife), and for its fast shutter speed so I can try and get birds in flight. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much luck yet with the birds in flight but I keep trying!

4) What’s the most challenging aspect of what you do?

I like to take photos with minimalistic yet natural backgrounds so the focus of the wildlife is the main attraction, and not competing with anything else. This is actually quite difficult to do because nature is so complex and in the wild, an animal or a bird is not often totally in the open. Even in wildlife parks or zoos, there are often cages that distract, or man made things in the way. Getting them close up and in focus is also challenging as most wildlife tends to move about, and you can’t direct them to where you would like them to be! You just have to bide your time and be as patient as possible!

Black Swan at Lake Rotoiti - Robyn Carter

5) Why birds?

I was born with a hearing loss and later lost all my hearing. For a long, long time I couldn’t even hear a bird at all. I was given a cochlear implant about 15 year ago, and the sound of birdsong just thrilled me. I then became interested in being able to recognise each song and bird, and it seemed to just go along with my photography. I love their colour and shape, and the challenge of bird photography because they’re often not easy subjects, being flighty, fast and generally not very obliging at the best of times! But every now and then all the elements line up perfectly and you can achieve the wow factor.


If you would like to be considered as a featured photographer, or would like to recommend a photographer for this monthly feature, please e-mail Andrew Harmon at Andrew.Harmon@Bird-Rescue.org.



June 9, 2011

One Beautiful Bird’s Survival Represents Success for Numerous Bay Area Wildlife Organizations

If you have ever been close to a heron rookery you know that it is an extremely busy place, with squawking adults feeding equally loud and active chicks. The rookeries usually contain mixed species such as Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Great Egrets and Black-Crowned Night Herons. Some of these colonies can be found in urban areas such as parks and road strips where mature trees create an appealing nesting canopy.

Less than two weeks after hatching, heron and egret chicks begin to perch on branches and stray a bit from the nest. At that point they are called branchers, and sometimes they are seen hanging upside down as they work to regain their balance. Some of them fall from their nests, and those that survive the fall either climb back up through the lower underbrush or die.

Heron rookeries in urban environments have a unique problem. To maintain a clean and park-like environment, city workers remove unsightly underbrush and mow lawns under the rookeries. With no underbrush to cushion their landing, falling chicks plummet to the earth. The ones that survive can’t get back to the branches without the underbrush. Returning them requires large trucks and many people, and the subsequent panic in the rookery leads to even more fallen chicks. The safest and most responsible alternative is to raise fallen chicks at our Wildlife Care Centers and release them when they mature.

Every year International Bird Rescue raises over 100 chicks from urban heron and egret rookeries around the Bay Area. They are released back into the wild with federal bands on their legs with the hope that someone will sight them in the future.

The following is the story of one such bird.

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue


Put a metaphoric feather in the cap of International Bird Rescue! A young, compromised Snowy Egret nestling which was rehabilitated at International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay Wildlife Center in Cordelia has been re-sighted very much alive — attempting to breed, in fact — at the Egret Rookery on Alameda’s Bay Farm Island this May, nearly a full year after it was returned to the wild.

This Snowy Egret was successfully rehabilitated by the dedicated “shoestring crew” left behind to maintain full operations at International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay center while most of International Bird Rescue’s senior staff and many of its long-time volunteers were deployed in the Gulf region last year alongside Tri-State Bird Rescue (where their expertise was needed to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife impacted by the spill). Because “Every Bird Matters” at International Bird Rescue, this bird enjoyed the world-class care that every one of the 2,400+ animals treated each year at the SF Bay wildlife center receives thanks to the center’s veteran staff and its well-trained crew of hard-working volunteers. The bird spent 18 days at the aquatic bird rehabilitation facility gaining weight and strength — while honing its essential flight and foraging skills — after it was rescued from traffic dangers in Santa Rosa by a conscientious citizen who had saved the bird last spring (May, 2010).

The location of this Santa Rosa rookery, where this bird was found, poses deadly challenges for fledgling Egrets who must dodge vehicle traffic while learning to use their young wings during their first days and weeks of flight practice beyond their nest trees. Fortunately, compassionate citizens in Santa Rosa have been proactive at trying to prevent tragedy and, when necessary, have been rescuing “stranded” egrets from the town’s streets each year!

The East Bay Regional Park District of Alameda and Contra Costa County played an important role in this bird’s successful return to the wild. Once International Bird Rescue’s rehabilitation process confirmed that this young Snowy was both able to fly well and forage successfully for himself, the juvenile bird was banded with a federal band on one leg before being returned to the wild in a safer location. Last June, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline Park in Oakland (a short egret flight from Alameda’s Bay Farm site), which protects hundreds of acres of suitable foraging and roosting habitat, this young Egret was released by an EB Park Ranger with help from an International Bird Rescue volunteer. The release site and its contiguous environs have been restored over a period of many years by the East Bay Regional Park District with much help from Save the Bay and the Golden Gate Audubon Society. Warm thanks are due to EB Parks’ MLK Ranger Staff and stewardship personnel for their great cooperation with this process, and to Save the Bay and Golden Gate Audubon for their ongoing restoration efforts which helped this bird to survive and flourish to reach breeding age, an important milestone. Based on observed behavior during much of May, 2011, this energetic male Snowy Egret seems quite intent on fathering some offspring at the Alameda Bay Farm colony site in his very first breeding season!

San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory collaborates with Audubon Canyon Ranch to provide ongoing scientific monitoring of all known colonial nesting water bird populations of the greater Bay Area, including the Santa Rosa Rookery Site (ACR) and the Alameda Bay Farm Site (SFBBO). SFBBO’s volunteer monitors’ most recent survey confirmed 25 active nests in the Egrets’ favorite Pine tree on Bay Farm Island, which both Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets call home (while egrets have roosted in this vicinity for years, Bay Farm Island has been a known nesting site only for the past 4 years).

It’s encouraging to realize that work of so many different wildlife organizations yielded a noteworthy result which all can celebrate in the form of a beautiful wild bird restored to his rightful place in our Bay-area ecosystem! This handsome Snowy Egret is now thriving thanks to the conscientious efforts of can-do rescuers, wildlife rehabilitators, habitat stewards, wetland restoration teams, and wildlife monitors. If the Snowy Egret owes everyone a “thank you”, surely, the sight of him — and the sounds of his lively breeding vocalizations — will suffice quite nicely for all concerned!

Cindy Margulis
International Bird Rescue
East Bay Regional Park District
Golden Gate Audubon Society
San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory
and Save the Bay

June 4, 2011

Fledgling Pelicans Need a Second Chance

Large numbers of fledgling California Brown Pelicans are flocking to International Bird Rescue. In the last few days we have received over 75 young, weak, and starving pelicans between our Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Centers. These birds are landing in schoolyards, at restaurants and on highways – sometimes even following people – in an attempt to find food. Why is this happening? It is important to understand a few things about Brown Pelicans in California.

Brown Pelicans begin nesting as early as January on the Channel Islands off of Southern California, the northernmost nesting colony for this species. By April, the fledglings begin to leave their nests to join the adult birds in the ongoing quest for food that takes them up the coast of California. Some years produce low numbers of chicks and some produce many, depending on food availability and the number of successful nesting adults. 2011 appears to be a strong year for chick rearing.

Like all species, pelican populations experience natural selection. It is estimated that up to 80% of the annual chick population will die as part of the natural selection process. The birds that find food on their own have a good chance of surviving while the ones that do not will perish relatively quickly after leaving the nest; the pelicans that our Centers are currently receiving are all starving.

In recent years, the government has announced that the California Brown Pelican population has fully recovered from the impact of the DDT that depleted their population over 50 years ago. They were subsequently removed from the endangered species list, and are considered to be a recovered species. That is a conservation success story, but now, the Brown Pelican is facing different obstacles that challenge its survival. Oil spills, ocean pollution, domoic acid poisoning, climate change and fishing tackle entanglements take countless numbers of these birds. These losses are not a part of natural selection, they are all man-made.

International Bird Rescue receives up to 600 Brown Pelicans annually and 40% of those come to us because of fishing line entanglements. These are just the ones who make it to us, not those who, for example, are lost at sea. Man-made impacts do not naturally select the weaker birds from the population, they hit any creature in their path. Many of the birds entangled in fishing tackle are adult breeding-age birds, and the genetic pool that should secure the future of the species.

We have had sightings of some of the birds rehabilitated at our centers years later, identified by their leg bands. These sightings are significant, as they imply that giving birds a second chance really works. The way we look at it is that we lose many pelicans to the threats like fishing tackle and ocean pollution, but the young birds that are rehabilitated help to fill in the vacant slots of those lost to modern-day threats.

Rehabilitating fledgling pelicans is not difficult, but it is costly. They come to us dehydrated and weak from starvation, but if we can give them a healthy and plentiful diet of fish (from 5 to 10 pounds a day per pelican), and aviaries where they can exercise, bathe and feed, then they thrive. Once they have gained weight back, they are released into a pelican feeding or roosting area where they can continue to learn to hunt for food on their own.

They are then on their own once more – to make it or not.

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue