Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Archive for May 2012

May 30, 2012

Interview with an Intern

Where else can you go to handle a hundred Pelicans in three months?
– Jay Holcomb

During the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989, International Bird Rescue recognized the need for a place where people interested in seabird and other aquatic bird rehabilitation could go to get hands-on experience, and the International Internship Program was born.

International Bird Rescue interns commit to at least three consecutive months of volunteer time in one of our rescue centers in California, and receive specialized training in all aspects of rehabilitation – from initial assessment, nutrition and animal care, basic medical treatments, bird washing, case management and volunteer management. They learn first-hand, from our experts the intricacies of waterproofing, housing for each species, problem solving, and herd health management (caring for many birds at one time). These are the very skills needed in working with wildlife impacted by a spill.

In addition to the applications we receive each year, it has become a tradition during oil spill responses to invite individuals who develop a passion for this work through their volunteer experience to intern with us at one of our Centers. We have had interns from all corners of the world, and one of the beauties of the program is that many of our interns have been able to bring their new expertise back to their native countries to share with others.

We recently asked our current intern from New Zealand, Michéle Melchior, to tell us about her experiences and her unique plans for how she will put her International Bird Rescue training and inspiration to good use.


Michéle helping to release rehabilitated Little Blue Penguins in New Zealand

What brought you to International Bird Rescue and wildlife rehabilitation in general?
Well, I studied film and television at university, and was traveling in Africa to film a documentary on white lions when I first became interested in rehab. When we finished filming I stayed on to work with the baby white lions and baby hyenas in one of the rehab centers there. So then, when I got back to New Zealand, I heard about the Rena oil spill and decided to volunteer for a day. I ended up working the rest of the spill and that’s where I first met people from International Bird Rescue, and Michelle Bellizzi (International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay Center Manager) invited me to intern.

What has been your favorite thing about the internship so far?
The amazing thing is just how much I’ve learned so quickly. What surprised me was how much I was learning from day one, and how often I am given the opportunity to try things myself. After watching the staff perform a task a certain amount of times, they let me try it myself. It just gives you so much more confidence when you know you can do it on your own. There is of course close supervision, but the fact that they trust me to try the skills that I learn is really valuable.

So has it inspired you to pursue a career in wildlife rehabilitation?
Definitely. In two different ways. I really, really want to join International Bird Rescue’s Emergency Response Team, and then I also want to produce documentaries that build support and awareness for wildlife rehab organizations, because I feel like people don’t realize how important it is, or even that organizations like Bird Rescue exist, or that they need help from volunteers and donations to be able to operate…

Wow. So you must have been excited to meet Judy Irving at the 40th Anniversary event?
Yeah! I loved seeing her clip from Pelican Dreams and I also love (Irene Taylor Brodsky’s) Saving Pelican 895 about the Gulf spill. I think what I want to do is mini documentaries that show the work, and how and why we need the public’s help.

Having had the opportunity to work with International Bird Rescue at a spill and in the Center, how would you say these two experiences differ?
Working at a spill involves a lot of repetition. It is mostly groups of the same species of bird with the same problem: oiling. At the Rena spill it was mostly Little Blue Penguins and I was in the clean tent, so the work involved throwing the birds in the pool, checking their waterproofing, and a lot feeding.

Penguins rehabilitating in pools after the Rena spill

Working at the Center is very different. It is more like a hospital. There are a wide range of birds and a wide range of tasks to be done. Over the course of a couple hours you could be checking bumble lesions and hock abrasions, feeding, taking blood, checking meds, helping with an intake… and it’s all on a wide variety of species so it helps your confidence. Also Becky, Michelle, Marie and Isabelle (International Bird Rescue’s Veterinarian and rehabilitation staff members) teach classes on things like anatomy, tube feeding, baby bird season, intake examination… so you get hands on training and classroom training.

So, what would be an example of a new skill that you’ve learned at the Center that you would be able to transfer over to oil spill response?
Well, I just learned how to sub-Q a bird, which stands for Subcutaneous injection. This is when a needle is inserted just under the skin of the bird to rehydrate them faster than giving water to them orally.

Also, choosing where to house specific species is important and I’m learning all about that. For example, pelagic birds need to be on the water all day, while other birds recuperate well on gravel… and these are decisions that you would have to make if you were helping to organize different birds in a spill.

Also, in the Rena oil spill I helped with washes by handling the birds while someone with more experience washed and rinsed, but now, during my internship, I have had the opportunity to wash and rinse oiled birds myself, while someone else handles.

So even though the work at the center varies from the work at spills, it’s still applicable?
Yeah. I actually think it is more effective in preparing for the next spill than working at another spill would be because gaining hands-on experience with all different skills and species will actually prepare me to help with a much wider range of tasks at a spill, so I would be a more valuable part of the team.

That’s great. So what would you say is the most challenging part of being an International Bird Rescue intern?
When animals come in with fishing hooks, lures, lines or just really badly broken – all because of human carelessness. We recently took care of a bird that accidentally flew into vegetable oil that was lying next to some kind of food shop. And a really sad thing has been the Canada Geese we get – humans have been feeding them some kind of poultry feed, and as a result they get metabolic bone disease, so they get life-threatening bone growths… It’s really hard to see.

Which species are the hardest to work with?
Well, I was really scared of Pelicans when I first got here and then one bit me in the butt so that didn’t help!

(Laughs) Seriously?
Yeah! But after that the staff suggested that I work with Pelicans for a week straight so that I could overcome my fear. (Laughs)

Really? Did you do it?
Yeah and it was perfect. I learned exactly how to deal with them and now I love them. Plus, like I said, I love Saving Pelican 895 so that helped too.

Awesome. So is there anything else that you think people should know about International Bird Rescue’s Internship Program?
It is extremely educational and you get a wide variety of hands-on experience. You meet a lot of like-minded people with different backgrounds who bring their own experience and knowledge to wildlife rehabilitation. I love it!


See what it takes to become International Bird Rescue’s next intern by visiting our Internships page!

International Bird Rescue is also always looking for volunteers at our Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Centers! No experience is necessary to attend a volunteer orientation and become an integral part of our life-saving team, so please also visit our Volunteer page to lend a hand.



May 23, 2012

It’s Tough to be a Gull!

A Gull coated in mechanical lubricant awaits rehabilitation at International Bird Rescue.

From hospital supplies and hearty meals to antibiotics and anesthesia, your generosity prepares us to care for every bird that arrives at our Centers.

Donate Now


Our small staff and extraordinary team of volunteers work 365 days a year, utilizing the resources you provide, to offer each bird the specialized care it deserves.

Your decision to help makes all of the difference.

Dear Friends,

International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay Center recently admitted a Western Gull that had survived three life-threatening encounters with mankind! Covered in what looked and smelled like mechanical lubricant, he was captured near San Francisco International Airport. During his intake evaluation, Center staff found fishing hook wounds in the corners of his mouth. X-rays taken to ensure that he had not in fact swallowed the hook revealed that he had been previously shot with a BB. This one bird had been – on three different occasions – oiled, hooked, and even shot.

Each day International Bird Rescue offers life-saving care to birds with stories like his, and we need your help!

While the Gull’s BB wound was surely intentionally inflicted, its fishing hook injury and exposure to life-threatening lubricant were likely the result of human carelessness – and these are just some of the many threats birds face while living in close proximity to people.

Your gift to International Bird Rescue will directly impact our ability to heal the wounds of human interference by offering each avian patient the expert care it deserves.

This Gull has survived the intensive wash it required to remove the lubricant, and is rehabilitating in our Pelican Aviary, but he is just one of dozens of birds with human-caused injuries in our care right now. International Bird Rescue hopes that you will join us in saving lives by supporting the medical and rehabilitation expenses for each of these magnificent, yet fragile, creatures.

Each successful recovery that we can give to a seabird like this is a victory for the future of human-wildlife relations. Every bird matters, and so does every donation.

With heartfelt thanks,

Paul Kelway
Executive Director
International Bird Rescue

Now clean, this tough Gull is recovering well at our San Francisco Bay Center.

May 11, 2012

Mother Nature

With so many baby birds in care at International Bird Rescue this spring, we are especially aware of how essential proper nurturing is to a thriving life. Raising these tiny birds reminds us of those who provided that love and care to us when we were young, and with Mother’s Day upon us we would love for you to consider symbolic bird adoptions as meaningful gifts for the moms in your lives.

Adopting an aquatic bird will help International Bird Rescue give expert and compassionate care to our patients – sharing your love for these magnificent creatures with your mom or grandmother will fill her heart with pride.

Plus, International Bird Rescue adoptions are now as easy as click, click, click.

  • Choose to adopt a Pelican, Heron, Loon, Murre or Duckling
  • Customize your certificate with your mom’s name
  • Print your certificate to enclose in a card – or send it to her by email!

Your support helps to keep local and global populations of aquatic birds healthy, so that your kids have plenty of Pelicans, Herons, Loons, Murres and Ducklings to point out to their little ones someday.

Thank you for your generosity, and if you are a mother –
Happy Mother’s Day!

With warmest wishes,

International Bird Rescue



May 9, 2012

Albatross: Looking for Land in All the Wrong Places

The Stowaway Albatross on its Second Return to the Ocean

Earlier this year we told you about a Laysan Albatross that came into the Port of Los Angeles on a ship as a “stowaway” – as they sometimes do – mistaking the vessel as a nesting island. That Albatross was examined, found to be healthy, and with the help of a lifeguard boat, promptly released at sea. With the entire Pacific Ocean to call home, it amazingly made the same mistake again! After landing on another ship, this bird came back into port two months after its first release, and was brought to International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Center for evaluation. Our staff, recognizing it by the number on the metal band we’d placed around its leg, quickly re-released this healthy bird in open water, where it would have the long water runway it requires to take flight.

“Broody” Albatrosses, urgently seeking a place to nest, typically show up from March through May. Anyone who raises chickens will know that when a hen becomes broody she will sit on a nest and nothing can get her to move. This hormonal urge overrides all common sense. Albatrosses do essentially the same thing.

The Albatross in Care at International Bird Rescue in January

Biologists have told me that young, first-time nesting Albatrosses will often venture out and try to colonize new islands. To these inexperienced birds, islands and ships can look a lot alike. Their powerful instinct to nest has them making decisions that are not always in their best interest, and some of the adventures this leads to can be pretty astonishing.

The best illustration is probably the story of two Laysan Albatrosses that arrived at International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay Center five years apart. Both birds were banded, taken out to sea and released. As their breeding grounds are a few tiny islands 2,800 miles west of San Francisco, chances were astronomical that these two birds would find one another, become lovebirds, nest on a ship together, and then find their way back into our care.

When they arrived, we recognized them by their band numbers and suspected that they were, in fact, a mated pair because of their behavior and the brood patch on the female’s breast. These aquatic birds were in good health, but not totally waterproof, probably due to their unnatural journey on a ship. We kept them in care until their feathers were back in perfect condition. The pair was then released again at sea to continue their lives together.

International Bird Rescue is committed to ensuring that the animals in our care stay wild. When they falter, we are happy to give them a helping hand, but we are also careful to do everything in our power to make sure that these birds have the freedom to make their own choices, and ultimately find their own way to thrive in the wild. Like humans in need, animals in need are called patients for a reason, and International Bird Rescue is happy to be just as patient with our returning birds as we are with first timers – every bird matters, and every bird has its own path back into the wild.

Thank you for continuing to help us offer the aquatic birds and seabirds that arrive at our centers the help they deserve to set off on their individual paths with the best possible chance of continued health and a wild life.

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue

A Second Chance to Try Again

May 8, 2012

Celebrating Our Friends

International Bird Rescue’s 40th Anniversary Silent Auction featured eye-catching donations from our generous friends.

International Bird Rescue's Michele Melchior and Isabel Luevano enjoy the festivities

International Bird Rescue was thrilled to commemorate four decades of work on behalf of aquatic birds at its recent Berkeley fundraiser “International Bird Rescue: Celebrating 40 Years in the San Francisco Bay Area.” Guests learned about the past, present and future of aquatic bird rescue and rehabilitation with presentations from Executive Director, Paul Kelway; Ocean Hero and Director Emeritus, Jay Holcomb; and beloved Bay Area filmmaker, Judy Irving. Attendees were also delighted to hear from Dave Smith – the organization’s founding Director of Research. International Bird Rescue Emergency Response Team members, volunteers, staff, board members and community supporters came together to celebrate the wonderful way that Bird Rescue couples rehabilitation with spill response – as Jay Holcomb noted, “80% of oiled bird care is about husbandry, and 20% is washing and dealing with the effects that oil has on the health of the birds, so our work in the centers really prepares us for working with each species in the event of a spill.”

Executive Director Paul Kelway highlights the scope of International Bird Rescue's work

Whether Bird Rescue’s wildlife experts are responding to an international spill or removing fishing hooks from the pouch of a local Pelican – like in Judy Irving’s clip from Pelican Dreams – International Bird Rescue’s year-round work is fueled by kind, individual contributions.

There are many to thank for the bright success of the evening, but foremost, International Bird Rescue would like to thank Chevron for its Signature Sponsorship of the event.

International Bird Rescue would also like to take this opportunity to express our special gratitude to the generous donors to the event’s silent auction and goodie bags:

Paper Mache Great Blue Heron from Overton Studios

Jay Holcomb and Dave Smith recount the story of International Bird Rescue

International Bird Rescue's dedicated volunteers brought their enthusiasm to the party


Alex and Ani
Almond Surfboards and Design
Bay Area Parent Magazine
Bay Nature Magazine
Berkeley Ironworks
Bird vs. Bird Design
Bird Project
Black Heron Inn
Brushstrokes Studio, Inc.
California Academy of Sciences
Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris
The Cliff House
CorePower Yoga
Crixa Cakes
Lynda Deniger
Dolphin Charters
Elkhorn Slough Safari
Suzi Eszterhas
Sandy Farwell
Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse
Funky Door Yoga
Marianne Groth
Harmony Ball
HBO Documentary Films
Jay Holcomb
iFly SF Bay
Kayak Connection
KIND Snacks
Landmark Theatres
John Muir Laws
La Méditeranée
Carol Lewis
The Natural Grocery Company
Karen Nevis
La Nôte Restaurant
The Oakland Zoo
Overton Studios
Pasta Pelican
Mary Pierce
Procter & Gamble
Rite in the Rain
San Francisco Ballet
San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Saturn Café
Marguerita Scannell
Scope City
Semifreddi’s Handcrafted Breads and Pastries
SF Bay Adventures
Shotgun Players
Sue Johnson Custom Lamps & Shades
The Treehouse Green Gifts
URT Clothing
Whales and Friends
Wild Bryde Jewelry
The Wine Collective
Yoki Shop

Thanks to your generosity, friends of the organization went home with beautiful treasures and eager anticipation for the performances, adventures and dining experiences your certificates have in store for them! International Bird Rescue is endlessly thankful for your shared belief that every bird matters, and we hope that you continue to follow the work that you are helping to support, here on the blog, on our Facebook page, and at future events in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay areas!

The talented Judy Irving introduces a clip from her upcoming film "Pelican Dreams"