Archive for March 2012
Every oil spill International Bird Rescue responds to seems to be symbolized by at least one of the species that it impacted. In 1996, the King Eider symbolized the Pribilof Islands’ Citrus spill, in 2000 the African Penguin symbolized South Africa’s Treasure spill, and in 1999 the Snowy Plover symbolized Oregon’s New Carissa spill. For 2010’s Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico the world took note of the Brown Pelican.
Despite the sheer numbers of Pelicans we cared for in the Gulf, a few of the individuals really stood out. While Pelican 895 became famous in the HBO Documentary, Saving Pelican 895, another Brown Pelican was distinguished for its unusual circumstance and size. Despite the fact that we usually call our patients by numbers, when we received this bird we referred to him as Micro-Peli because he was less than 2 weeks old and one of the tiniest babies that we have ever cared for.
Micro’s age presented some problems. I can remember Dr. Erica Miller of Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research showing me Micro when he first came in. We both looked at each other and said, “Oh %$#*,” because we knew that keeping this little guy wild, with all the people running around the center, would be a challenge. Baby Pelicans see anything that moves as a potential source of food and can just as easily habituate to a human, a dog, or a lampshade as a Pelican. We took serious precautions to avoid letting him connect people with fish, which was especially difficult, as he had to be hand fed. When it came time to teach Micro to eat fish out of a dish, we were further challenged, as he only wanted to interact with things that moved. We worried about Micro throughout his almost two-month stay at the Louisiana center as signs of his habituation toward people persisted.
The International Bird Rescue and Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research team accomplished Micro’s rehabilitation against great odds. We had to consider whether it was in his best interest to place him in a zoo due to the fact that he was demonstrating acute habituation behavior toward people. The staff collectively decided that we would pull out all the stops to ensure that this bird was a wild, human-avoiding bird by the time he was ready for release.
Micro was eventually able to eat out of a dish and stay with older baby Pelicans, which helped him to retain his identification with his species. As he got larger and began to swim and play with his cage mates, they were given a daily dose of live minnows to encourage foraging and teach them to recognize live fish. The hunting instinct took over and they went crazy chasing minnows. By the time Micro was full size, at 2 to 3 months old, he seemed more independent, semi-wild and certainly able to identify fish as a meal. This signaled that he was ready to be released. Micro was fitted with a colorful plastic leg band with an ID number, and returned to the wild on Louisiana’s Raccoon Island on October 6, 2010.
The day he was released one of our response team members, Patrick Hogan, let me know that Micro was behaving like a wild, healthy and energetic young Pelican – not at all interested in people.
Almost a year and a half later, we have some exciting news from Dr. Miller, who receives data on bird sightings from Deepwater Horizon: Micro has been sighted 3 times since his release! Micro was first spotted and captured in Port Isabel, Texas on January 8, 2011. Dr. Miller says that the letter she received said that he was “caught, injured,” but there was no further information. He must have been released, as he was seen twice this past August, on the 4th and 9th, back on Raccoon Island! That’s a survival of at least 307 days in the wild! We look forward to hearing when he is spotted again.
Thank you to the entire team, for taking the extra time to ensure his survival and successful return to the wild – every bird matters, and our hard work paid off!
International Bird Rescue
97 oiled Murres – penguin-like diving birds that spend most of their lives at sea – have been brought to International Bird Rescue for care over the last two months, and as of yesterday afternoon they are still flooding in. Unlike the birds we hear about during high profile oil spills, these birds are being oiled by a natural oil seep along the Southern California coast, so public awareness is much more limited. The danger, however, to the birds is identical. With no one else to blame but Mother Nature, International Bird Rescue is asking the public to take action as these birds’ last line of defense.
Oil – whether it is spilled from a tanker or mixed up from the ocean floor – interferes with birds’ ability to maintain their body temperature by impairing the natural waterproofing properties of their feathers and consequently their insulation from the elements, often resulting in hypothermia.
These natural oil seeps occur most notably in the Santa Barbara Channel near Coal Oil Point, which emits between 5,280 and 6,600 gallons of oil per day, and when this oil is stirred up each winter it becomes particularly harmful to diving birds, like the Murres currently filling International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Center.
International Bird Rescue has 40 years of experience cleaning oiled wildlife at more than 200 oil spills as it maintains two year-round aquatic bird rescue centers. Over the last four decades both the scope and the sophistication of International Bird Rescue’s clinical work and research have evolved, dramatically increasing survival rates. “We know that when we get birds from a natural seep in time they have a good chance of survival,” notes International Bird Rescue Director Emeritus, Jay Holcomb. “Some years we receive even more natural oil seep birds than we do birds from a human-caused oil spill with a responsible party to cover the cost of their care – and, unfortunately, these birds don’t come to us with health insurance.”
“We have never seen this many oil seep Murres at once.” Besides the 97 Murres, International Bird Rescue’s patients oiled from this event have included three Common Loons, three Pacific Loons, three Western Grebes, an Eared Grebe, a Surf Scoter, and a Rhinoceros Auklet.
Natural events like oil seeps, algal blooms, and even extreme weather keep staff and volunteers at International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Centers busy at least 10 hours a day, 365 days a year.
How the Public Can Help
Some of International Bird Rescue’s costs for natural seep events are offset by support from California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network through funding by the California Department of Fish and Game, but we still bear the brunt of this responsibility every year and are asking for donations.
To report oiled wildlife sightings please call (877) UCD-OWCN.