International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Wildlife Centers are working long hours this summer to care for an influx of young aquatic birds. Most striking are the large numbers of juvenile Brown Pelicans in urgent need of care. As quickly as we can get them back on their feet and released into the wild, more arrive. See Pelican Video
Some have injuries caused by fishing hooks or fishing line, others suffer from various forms of infection, and about half are simply starving, unable to find enough food to survive on their own.
A young Brown Pelican eats an average of 6 pounds of fish a day – half its bodyweight – and each of our two centers is caring for 40-50 Pelicans at a time. International Bird Rescue is purchasing more than 500 lbs. of fish per day at up to $2.05 a pound just to keep these birds fed – and that’s just the Pelicans!
It is only through generous donations from friends like you that we are able to provide all of the birds that pass through our doors with everything they need to survive and thrive. We ask you to please donate what you can to help us save not just these birds, but every bird that needs us. Donate Now
From the largest Brown Pelican to the tiniest Killdeer chick, every bird matters.
With heartfelt thanks,
International Bird Rescue
Response team member, Mark Russell, removes an oiled Cooper’s Hawk caught in a special snare trap for raptors.
Now that the river is receding our teams can access many of the islands in the Yellowstone River and evaluate the impact that the oil has had on wildlife. Some of these islands are a number of acres, while others are very small, and many host large groves of mature and majestic cottonwood trees, lots of brush and, of course, mosquitoes. Visiting the islands is logistically challenging; each team receives a safety briefing, must wear safety gear for dangerous water areas, and transport boats have to be assigned and coordinated. When we get to an island we scour all areas looking for oiled wildlife; it’s hot, swampy, muddy and difficult work.
Five days ago, International Bird Rescue response team members Adam Ribota and Mark Russell went to one of the large islands and spotted a male Cooper’s Hawk, still able to fly and seemingly strong, but approximately 30% oiled. Concerned, they revisited the island for three days and found that while the bird would fly into the trees when approached, it could frequently be found sunning itself on a log near the river. This somewhat abnormal behavior indicated that that bird might be becoming hypothermic.
Montana is infamous for its thunderstorms, dumping massive amounts of rain. Caught in one, any oiled bird would quickly become waterlogged and be unable to maintain its body temperature. We have used thunderstorms to our advantage in the past to help us capture oiled birds. In the Gulf of Mexico, for example, we caught six soggy White Pelicans in a single downpour. This Hawk on a difficult-to-access island would be at great risk, and a plan to capture it went into effect.
Dave Pauli of the Humane Society of the United States played an important role, connecting us with a local falconer who had a specifically designed snare trap for raptors. This small dome-shaped cage made of hardware cloth had many small monofilament line nooses tied over it. A young Starling was placed in the cage, where it would be safe but would lure the Hawk. When the Hawk flew down to attempt to capture the Starling, the Hawk’s legs would become entangled.
On Tuesday, we set up the trap on the sandbar where the Hawk was frequently seen, and Mark and I hid in the trees about 50 feet away. Within an hour and a half, the Hawk was ensnared. We removed the bird and took it to our rehabilitation center.
There was concern that this bird may have young to care for. If he was in good health we would do our intake procedure (identify the species, establish the amount of oil on him, take a feather sample and photo), do an exam, and then immediately wash him, keeping him overnight for release the next day. During a previous major spill we had a number of Bald Eagles who were oiled but also had chicks in nests. The US Fish & Wildlife Service would capture one parent and bring it to us, leaving the other parent to care for the chicks, and we would do an exam, wash the bird and release it back to its nest area within 48 hours. With the return of one parent, we would capture and treat the other.
Once blood was taken from the Hawk and his exam indicated that he was a very healthy bird, we continued with our fast-paced plan. Despite the fact that Cooper’s Hawks are very stressy and shy, this bird handled the washing and human contact well. He was captured Tuesday morning, treated and washed, and on Wednesday morning the hawk was transported to the island and released.
It shot out of the cage and disappeared into the forest.
International Bird Rescue
Lured by grain, a motion-activated camera was used to gauge the degree of oiling of this flock of Canada Geese.
How do you find a needle in a haystack? Or in this case, how do you capture two oiled geese in a flock of 60? Patience really is a virtue – and coupled with experience and ingenuity it’s paying off.
As the Yellowstone River slowly recedes (about 3 feet so far), we have gained more access to shorelines and adjacent areas. In a farmer’s field about a half mile downstream from the broken pipeline we spotted a group of 60 geese from the other side of the swollen river. We observed that about six of the geese had visible oil on them. Two of these birds were what we consider heavily oiled, and at risk of succumbing to hypothermia if we did not capture them before fall when temperatures drop significantly. The other 4 had patchy oil on their feathers which we believe puts them at minimal risk, as it will likely molt out before the weather turns.
Our plan for capture of the heavily oiled geese consisted of creating a feeding station to attract them and setting a net launcher. The flock had been feeding in a relatively dry and open spot early in the day, and we visited the site every morning for a week to leave piles of grain and seed. We employed a motion-activated camera to obtain close-ups of the birds and gauge the degree of oiling on each.
Dave Pauli of the Humane Society of the United States, a specialist in capturing and moving wild animals, connected us with Gerald Wiscomb, a local USDA, APHIS agent. Jerry had the Coda Net Launcher we needed. The gunpowder actuated 45’ x 20’ capture net is shot using four projectiles to rapidly spread the net over a target. We tested the system at the local airport and got familiar with its range and sound. Meanwhile, we set up a dummy version of the system at the feeding station so that the birds could get used to its presence.
On Saturday at 4 a.m., 7 International Bird Rescue staff, Jerry, Dave and Rocky Ortega from Exxon all met and drove to the site. Nine of us situated ourselves out of sight in the corner of a mosquito infested field a hundred yards from the feeding site, while Jerry hid in a small shack near the feeding site so that he could see when the birds were in the target zone. After two hours of waiting, he radioed that one of the heavily oiled birds was in the center of the target area and he detonated the launcher. We raced from our hiding spot to find the bird he’d targeted – and no others – in the center of the net. The system worked perfectly!
The goose was taken to our rehabilitation center downstream, and its exam indicated that it was in good health. It was given a day of rest to reduce its stress levels, and then washed on Monday. The goose did well in the wash, and is currently in an outdoor enclosure, waterproofing itself and eating. It will be released later in the week.
As the river recedes, birds are preferring safer sites like sand bars and islands in the river. Additionally, many raccoons and deer are enjoying the grain we put out. Therefore, our feeding site is not as enticing as it once was. The other heavily oiled goose has been shy and elusive, and had flown away before we launched the net. Since it was not present to be frightened by the detonation, we are keeping the feeding station going, but only a small number of geese are visiting it. At this point it is unsure if the oiled bird will come back, but we continue to monitor it and will keep you updated.
In the meantime, we continue to search for oiled wildlife and build important relationships with local professionals like Dave Pauli and Jerry Wiscomb who really made this bird capture a success.
International Bird Rescue
Duane Titus of International Bird Rescue’s Emergency Response Team searches for oiled wildlife in Yellowstone River backwater.
International Bird Rescue has been working on the Silvertip Pipeline Spill Incident in Billings, Montana for a week now. The river has dropped dramatically in the last few days, and that is really helping the cleanup crews and our emergency response teams access areas that were previously unreachable. Gravel and sand bars and islands are beginning to appear. We have also had the good fortune of meeting many ranchers who own property along river and have graciously given us the access we need to assess the impact of oil on wildlife on their land. During our evaluations we have seen many clean and healthy Bald Eagles, Prairie Dogs, White Pelicans, White-tailed Deer and of course, many species of waterfowl.
To date we have only captured four oiled animals: two toads, a snake and a juvenile Yellow Warbler. Due to the low number of oiled animals in this spill, we have set up a relatively small rehabilitation center, consisting of two trailers complete with plumbing and electricity. Small wooden pens are being set up outside to hold wildlife. The center can be expanded to meet the needs of the wildlife we encounter.
While we are not seeing many affected animals, we have identified a few heavily oiled Canada Geese. There are hundreds of geese along the river; some are very wary of people, but the ones that congregate in some of the local parks approach people to be fed. The oiled ones, unfortunately, are in the leery category, which makes our work to capture them a bit more challenging, and may entail the use of specialized equipment.
We will continue to update you as our work continues.
International Bird Rescue
Searching for oiled wildlife, Mark Russell of International Bird Rescue’s Response Team, works along the Yellowstone River.
International Bird Rescue’s team has been in Billings, Montana since July 3 working on the Silvertip Pipeline Spill Incident in the Yellowstone River. We have sighted hundreds of clean and healthy Canada Geese and Mallard ducks, but no oiled birds. After talking to other professionals working on the spill, and with most of our time spent along the river, it became clear to us why we are not seeing oiled birds. Massive snowmelt has made the river a rapid and violent body of water that has wiped out the quiet inlets and slack water areas that waterfowl enjoy. Many of the area’s seasonal wild residents had already been forced to move, thereby avoiding much of the oil as it flowed down the river.
The turbulent river was so fast that it broke up the slick into streamers that eventually became smaller smudges and pieces of oil. These pieces can be seen on patches of vegetation, and as they dehydrate and become even more sticky, leaf and other debris adheres to them, helping them decompose quicker, and ultimately making them less likely to harm wildlife. On the other hand, fast-moving water also makes finding any remaining oil more difficult.
To date we have recovered one oiled baby garter snake, and it has been cleaned and released. All in all, this is not the worst spill we have been involved with, but it’s still a spill, and we will continue to monitor wildlife along the river as long as there is any risk.
International Bird Rescue
Fewer Traces of Oil Found on Wildlife: KULR-8, August 31, 2011
International Bird Rescue still has crews walking along the riverbanks daily, but they aren’t finding as many cases of affected wildlife.
Exxon finishes cleaning first 4 sites in river spill: Billings Gazette, July 21, 2011
“Wildlife experts have cleaned and released the oiled Cooper’s hawk captured earlier this week.” “International Bird Rescue out of California was brought in by Exxon to clean wildlife affected by the spill. So far, workers have only had to treat three birds” “”We’re pretty happy that there’s not a lot of birds here,” said Jay Holcomb with International Bird Rescue.” “Crews cleaned a goose earlier in the week, which they’re still holding until it’s strong enough to release back into the wild.”
19 days after oil spill, officials still waiting on test results: KTVQ Billings, July, 20, 2011
“And good news to report about the Cooper’s Hawk that had been observed along the Yellowstone river with oil on it. Karen Nelson with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said crews with the International Bird Rescue facility were able to capture the hawk on Tuesday. She says IBR workers reported the hawk was in good condition, were able to clean and wash it, and released the bird back into the wild.”
Bird rescue group pleased with limited impact of MT oil spill: KTVQ Billings, July, 20, 2011
“Following this week’s release of a list of the animals affected, and in some cases killed, by the oil spilled in the Yellowstone River, an opportunity was given to the media to visit the wildlife cleaning facility where the animals are being treated.”
2 weeks out and scope of spill still unknown: Billings, Gazette, July 14, 2011
“Gary Hammond, director of the Billings region of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said it’s important to attend to individual animals affected by the spill.” “But, he said, the main focus of the cleanup will be the overall ecology of the Yellowstone River and returning it to its pre-spill health.”
Wildlife Along Yellowstone River Faring Well, So Far, but Landowners Struggle With Oil Spill: The New York Times, July 8, 2011
Jay Holcomb, director emeritus for the International Bird Rescue, which has partnered with Exxon on the cleanup effort, said the river’s rapid flow has made the area inhospitable to most waterfowl, sparing many that would normally be drawn to the river’s placid backwaters.” “We have sighted hundreds of clean and healthy Canada geese and mallard ducks, but no oiled birds,” he said in a blog entry yesterday. “All in all, this is not the worst spill we have been involved with. But it’s still a spill, and we will continue to monitor wildlife along the river as long as there is any risk.”
Yellowstone River Wildlife Rescue Continues: KULR-8, July 7, 2011
“We set up areas that we call quadrants, and we start looking as close as we can in each quadrant, and we do an assessment of where the oil is. We then start looking for wildlife and just get an idea of what’s in the area,” International Bird Search and Rescue Director Emeritus; Jay Holcomb said.
Rescuers Ask for Help Locating Affected Animals: KULR-TV, Updated July 6, 2011
“Six members of the nonprofit organization International Bird Rescue have been in town since Sunday. Rescuers are responsible for collecting and rehabilitating wildlife.” “Coordinator Mark Russell said the rescuers have years of experience, especially with waterfowl, and have worked on both the Gulf spill and the Exxon-Valdez spill.”
Crews search for wildlife harmed by oil: Billings Gazette, July 5, 2011
“As crews continue to sop up the oil and determine what caused the pipe to fail, others are trying to find those most vulnerable to the oil spill — waterfowl, fish and other aquatic species.” “Six people from International Bird Rescue were walking the banks Tuesday.”
ExxonMobil News Releases
Yellowstone River Cleanup and Recovery Update: ExxonMobil, July 8, 2011
“We continue to work with International Bird Rescue, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to survey the area for impacts to wildlife. Members of the team are surveying the affected areas of the river for oiled wildlife. We are also inspecting the property of landowners who have called the claims and wildlife hotlines.” “On Thursday, International Bird Rescue collected a toad on a landowner’s property. The toad was cleaned on site and released, bringing the total number of treated wildlife to two. A garter snake was treated and released on Wednesday” “In addition, several lightly oiled birds were observed, none required capture or cleaning. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be performing aerial flights specifically looking for birds in impacted areas.” “Today, two boats are scheduled to go out onto the slack, or shallow, water to continue to search for any additional wildlife that may have been affected by the incident.”
Yellowstone River Cleanup and Recovery Update: ExxonMobil, July 7, 2011
“We have been working with International Bird Rescue and the Montana Fish and Wildlife and Parks Departments to survey the area for impacts to wildlife. Members of the team have been deployed to inspect the property of landowners who have called the claims and wildlife hotlines.” “Yesterday, International Bird Rescue collected a garter snake on a landowner’s property. The snake was cleaned on site and released.”
Yellowstone River Cleanup and Recovery Continues: ExxonMobil, July 6, 2011
“We have been working with International Bird Rescue and the Montana Fish and Wildlife and Parks Departments to survey the area for impacts to wildlife. Members of the team have been deployed to inspect the property of landowners who have called the claims and wildlife hotlines.” “To date, no wildlife have been collected.” “International Bird Rescue and the Humane Society are staged for immediate response and rehabilitation if needed.”
A team of six oiled wildlife response experts from International Bird Rescue has been deployed to Montana following the Yellowstone River Pipeline Spill. The response team, headed up by Director Emeritus, Jay Holcomb, began arriving in Billings, Montana, on July 3 and will be working with state and federal wildlife agencies to help coordinate the rescue and rehabilitation of any impacted wildlife.
International Bird Rescue’s team has responded to over 200 oil spills in more than a dozen countries around the world.
To report oiled wildlife in Montana, please call 1 (888) 382-0043.
In addition to responding to oil spills around the world, International Bird Rescue staff work to care for birds impacted by lesser known threats like natural oil seeps under the ocean, algal blooms, marine debris, and extreme weather. We use this blog to share stories from the field and from the two California-based bird rescue centers we manage. We hope you enjoy this window into our world—we are truly passionate about caring for birds, and know that our community shares this passion. We could not do this important work without your ongoing support!