Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Archive for September 2012

September 28, 2012

The Case of a Cormorant

International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Center recently took in a Brandt’s Cormorant with extensive fishing hook injuries, especially to the sides of its mouth. While pelicans are the species most commonly plagued by this type of injury, cormorants also plunge-dive in fishing areas, and thus run a similar risk.

Our staff is anesthetizing this bird every two days to surgically debride its commissures, or remove the affected tissue from the intersections of its upper and lower mandibles. A hook that had pierced through the top of its mandible also needed to be removed, and there is a large wound on the side of its cheek from yet another hook. The Cormorant has suffered deep wounds and severe loss of tissue, but while the road ahead may be a challenge, this bird is responding to antibiotics and still has a strong chance of survival.

International Bird Rescue staff and volunteers continue to work hard toward this resilient and “feisty” bird’s recovery.



September 27, 2012

Birds in Our Care, September 27

New patients this week include two American Coots, one Royal Tern and 1 Green Heron.

September 27, 2012

Hard to Swallow

This Pied-billed Grebe was treated for fishing hook injuries.


Each year, Californians alone use an estimated 12 billion single-use bags, which account for as much as 25% of the litter stream in State waterways such as the Los Angeles River.

A reusable shopping tote
from the International Bird Rescue online store

Dear Friends,

Accidents happen. We choose reusable materials and diligently pick up after ourselves, but as hard as we each try to shrink our own ecological footprint, most of us have let a plastic bag get away from us in the wind or lost a sandwich wrapper off the side of our beach towel. Or what about the disposable coffee cup you forgot on the roof of your car? Each of us has played a part in the pollution we see around us, and each of us has the power to do something to reduce the damage.

International Bird Rescue helps hundreds of birds impacted by plastics and other debris each year, like the Brown Pelican whose x-ray (shown below) revealed that it had swallowed a pair of glasses, or the California Gull gingerly freed from the “Open 24 Hours” bag wrapped tightly around its neck.

To bolster progress in decreasing pollution and preventing such accidents, International Bird Rescue is proud to throw our support behind the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Stop Plastic Pollution coalition. We also know that our greatest strength is in mitigation of the dangers pollution poses for seabirds and other aquatic birds, and International Bird Rescue is hard at work rescuing and rehabilitating these animals 365 days a year.

All of us at International Bird Rescue thank you for everything you do to protect our waters and the birds that call them home.

With deepest gratitude,

Paul Kelway Signature Photo




A pair of glasses is discovered inside a Brown Pelican


September 27, 2012

Portrait of a Whimbrel

A Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a beautiful, large shorebird in the Curlew genus that weighs about as much as a tall cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Its most notable feature is a slender bill that, as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes, “nicely matches the shape of fiddler crab burrows. The bird reaches into the crab’s burrow, extracts the crab, washes it if it is muddy, and sometimes breaks off the claws and legs before swallowing it.” Due to suspected population declines, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designates the Whimbrel as a “Species of Conservation Concern.”

On Sept. 15, this Whimbrel was found emaciated with a possible impact wound in Half Moon Bay, located about 20 miles south of San Francisco. The bird was brought to International Bird Rescue’s Bay Area wildlife care center for treatment. After recovering and gaining weight, it was released on Monday in the Albany Mudflats.

Cheryl Reynolds, our volunteer and outreach coordinator at the Bay Area center, took these photographs prior to its release.

September 24, 2012

Bird Rescue News Round-Up, September 24

In this week’s round-up: The New York Times on Rachel Carson’s environmental legacy, the Salton Sea as essential migratory rest stop, and an avian botulism outbreak kills scores of waterfowl in Oregon. (Illustration by Valero Doval from NYT magazine’s “How ‘Silent Spring’ Ignited the Environmental Movement”)

—In the recent Sunday New York Times Magazine, Guggenheim fellow Eliza Griswold writes a stunning piece on Rachel Carson’s ecological legacy and the vociferous backlash she endured following the release of Silent Spring 50 years ago. “She was accused of being a communist sympathizer and dismissed as a spinster with an affinity for cats,” Griswold writes. “In one threatening letter to [Carson's publisher] Houghton Mifflin, [Velsicol Chemical Corp’s] general counsel insinuated that there were ‘sinister influences’ in Carson’s work: she was some kind of agricultural propagandist in the employ of the Soviet Union, he implied, and her intention was to reduce Western countries’ ability to produce food, to achieve ‘east-curtain parity.’” [The New York Times]

— An avian botulism outbreak has killed about 1,200 birds — largely young Green-winged Teals — in several wetlands near Portland, Ore.

Caused by the naturally-occurring bacteria Clostridium botulinum, the disease attacks an animal’s nervous system, with symptoms usually consisting of partial paralysis. Early stages often show only paralysis of the nictitating membrane, or third eyelid, followed by larger muscle groups. Ultimately, the ducks are unable to move and drown or fall victim to predation.

According to a report in the Examiner, Portland Audubon Society is currently rehabilitating many birds affected by the outbreak.

Ducks with botulism respond well to an aggressive fluid therapy treatment: International Bird Rescue’s typical release rate is from 80% to 90% if the birds are captured and treated in time. [Examiner.com; Teal photo Wikipedia Commons]

—Meanwhile, researchers find that avian malaria (like avian botulism, it’s not a threat to humans) exists as far north as Fairbanks, Alaska. [Alaska Dispatch]

—The disappearing Salton Sea remains a critical stopover for more than 400 species of birds that travel the Pacific Flyway. [The Desert Sun]

—Biologists from Scotland’s University of St. Andrews have fitted crows in the South Pacific with tiny electronic tags to observe how the birds might learn from each other how to use tools.

Science Blog notes:

The study looked at crows in New Caledonia, an archipelago of islands in the South Pacific. The crows are famous for using different tools to extract prey from deadwood and vegetation. Biologists wondered whether the birds might learn by watching each other.

The results, as reported by St. Andrews, revealed “a surprising number of contacts” between non-related crows. During one week, the technology recorded more than 28,000 interactions among 34 crows. While core family units of New Caledonian crows contain only three members, the study found all the birds were connected to the larger social network. [Science Blog]

September 21, 2012

Friday Rounds

As is customary for end-of-the-week on our blog, International Bird Rescue’s Bay Area and Los Angeles wildlife care center teams have filled us in on the current number and species of birds in care. Here’s the combined tally from our two centers (current as of Thursday afternoon, September 20):

Thanks to Cheryl Reynolds and Neil Uelman for supplying this week’s numbers.

And to our Facebook followers, the answer to our trivia question is Whimbrel. Check out more on this amazing bird at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

September 21, 2012

Update: Oiled Bird Toll in South African Spill Reaches 254

Endangered African Penguins undergoing rehabilitation at SANCCOB in South Africa. All photos courtesy SANCCOB.

Our friends at The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) have this update on efforts to save oiled birds affected by SELI 1, a freighter wreck near Robben Island that broke into three pieces in severe weather, causing an oil slick:

Since the spill, SANCCOB has admitted a total of 219 oiled, endangered African penguins, 2 oiled Cape Gannets, 33 penguin chicks and 3 eggs that were abandoned as a result of their parents being oiled. The oil slick was drifting in Table Bay, which is one of the main feeding grounds for seabirds from Robben Island and the West Coast National Park, but aerial surveillance reports indicated that much of the oil seen leaking from the vessel had been cleared up.

From 5-19 September 2012 all the 221 oiled seabirds were washed by SANCCOB’s dedicated staff and volunteers and together with the 30 chicks and the eggs are currently undergoing rehabilitation at SANCCOB’s centre. Two of eggs have hatched in SANCCOB’s Chick Rearing Unit while one was deemed not viable. All of the birds are in a very good condition and are responding well to the rehabilitation process. The first group of birds will be released next week after they have been given the final nod-of-approval from our veterinary team.

September 20, 2012

Up for a Wash

What’s a “COMU?”

In bird lingo, it’s a Common Murre, and we see a lot of them at our centers. Howard Freshman, one of our wonderful volunteer photographers, recently took these photos of an oiled Common Murre transferred to our Los Angeles center last week from Pacific Wildlife Care in Morro Bay.

Here, Rehabilitation Technician Marianne Domingues (left) and volunteer Leslie Eppick wash the bird.

We’ll keep you posted on this murre’s progress.


September 18, 2012

This Fall, Keep Your Eye on the Band!

J92, a juvenile Brown Pelican rehabilitated and released by International Bird Rescue. Photo by Rebecca Dmytryk of WildRescue.

Dear friends,

At International Bird Rescue, this has truly been the year of the Brown Pelican.

Between our two centers in California, we have received well over 500 pelicans since July and nearly 800 to date this year — already a record for us, and surely there are many more to come. The majority of these birds are young, having just fledged in late spring on the Channel Islands. From there, they’ve moved along the coast with the adult pelicans to search for food and to find their way in the world.

Unbeknownst to them, the world not only has natural obstacles in it, but also many man-made ones, such as fish oiling from fish cleaning stations, fishing tackle and hook entanglements; and myriad other human-generated challenges.

We are not content to simply release these animals back into the wild. We want to know what happens to them. That’s why beginning in 2009, we began putting larger, blue plastic bands on their legs for easy identification. And soon, we’ll be banding our 1,000th blue-banded pelican. Another milestone!

What’s exciting to us at International Bird Rescue is that we are getting a clearer picture of what pelican life truly is like in these modern times. In a larger sense, these birds can serve as indicators for the environmental health of our oceans and coastlines.

While we receive reports about these birds on a weekly basis, we always need bird lovers to go out and look for them. Many are doing well and have been encountered from Mexico to Washington. A few others have died, and some have even returned to us with fishing tackle entanglements and other injuries such as sea lion bites.

Want to get involved? Here are two of the best ways to do so:

1. Look for blue-banded pelicans — at the beach, the piers, or wherever pelicans hang out. It’s fun and you may get to see one or more of the birds that we have cared for. Make sure to catch the band number, then let us know about your sighting at Report a Bird on our website.

2. Become a supporter of International Bird Rescue. Pelicans are extremely costly to rehabilitate and release back into the wild. As the limerick goes, A wonderful bird is the Pelican // His beak can hold more than his belly can. Our staff can attest to this firsthand! These birds consume about half their body weight per day — and the fish bill adds up. Your donation will help ensure that our mission to help pelicans and other aquatic birds in need continues. Find out more here.

In the near future, we’ll be launching a pelican page on our website that will give you an even more detailed picture of these magnificent birds and our efforts to help them thrive.


Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue

September 17, 2012

The Release Files: Stand Up for Phalaropes

Phalaropes have been washing up along the shoreline and coming in to International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Center, unable to stand.

Once stabilized, the Phalaropes have been receiving tube feedings, as it is very hard to get this species to eat on their own. They are then moved to an indoor, cool water hospital pool, and self-feeding is gradually introduced. The food is sprinkled on top of the water, and once they gain strength they start eating like crazy. This is important for getting their weights up before release.

When we returned 6 rehabilitated Phalaropes to nature on Saturday, their homecoming was speedy and joyous.

Thank you for helping us care for the many seabirds and aquatic birds that need us.

Every bird matters.

Photos by Howard Freshman