Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Archive for November 2012

November 15, 2012

Sometimes It Takes a Village: Relying on the Kindness of Strangers

A Pacific Loon treated at International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay Area center. Photo by Jeff Robinson.

It may be hard to believe, but we have actually had injured birds come to us, like a gull that once landed on the roof of our Los Angeles center impaled by a gigantic, three-pronged fishing lure. But the majority of the time, injured and sick birds rely on caring humans to get from where they land or beach themselves to our bird hospitals. There can be stops at other centers along the way for assessment and triage, but because most wildlife care centers in California don’t have the large pools and aviaries needed to properly rehabilitate many aquatic species, they need to get to International Bird Rescue. It is not uncommon for patients to come from hundreds of miles away to get the specialized care our centers provide.

Since they can’t fly or drive themselves, these birds need the equivalent of a bird limo service. We call this volunteer program Wings on Wheels — caring humans willing to drive long distances with a bird companion. If only they counted for the carpool lane!

When a Pacific Loon flew into a lighthouse during a storm in a remote area of Mendocino County (130 miles north of San Francisco), it could have been the end of the line for the beautiful bird. But this loon had luck on her side and a strong will to live. The Point Arena Lighthouse is a historical landmark with an animal-loving manager, Pamela Fitzgerald, who saw the grounded black bird with the beady eyes and razor-sharp bill and was not deterred. She thought the bird was injured because it couldn’t move. One wing appeared to have a slight droop.

Many people don’t know that some water birds can’t walk on land. Physiologically, they’ve evolved to dive, so their legs are far back on their bodies. When they become grounded, it’s commonly assumed that they’re injured, but uninjured grounded birds just need to be put back into water. In this case, it would be impossible to know if this loon was injured without examination by a professional.

The loon’s journey from Point Arena to our San Francisco Bay Area center. Photo by Pamela Fitzgerald.

Pam did the absolute right thing — she contacted IBR for instructions, and with the help of gloves and a blanket, the loon was gently put into a box. Since it was late in the day, nothing could be done except to let the loon rest for the night and find a bird limo driver to get her from the lighthouse to our San Francisco Bay Area center in Fairfield — a long and winding 140-mile drive on mostly back roads.

To everyone’s relief, a quick look in the box the next morning found the loon alive. Loons, like many wild animals, can actually die from the stress of capture and confinement, so keeping them in a quiet dark box is the best one can do. Getting the loon to our Bay Area center was another matter. Becky Curtis, who works at the lighthouse, generously offered to make the journey across four counties. And because of the stress factor, her feathered friend would need quiet — no rock music on the drive.

Arriving at IBR late in the evening, the loon was quickly examined and hydrated by intern Sierra Lammers. Since the loon’s waterproofing had been compromised, which can happen if the bird’s feces have stuck to its feathers while in the box, she was put on a comfy donut in a net-bottomed cage to rest the night.

Banding the loon for release. Photo by Jeff Robinson.

The next morning, an exam by rehab manager Michelle Bellizzi and veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr revealed no broken bones, just the equivalent of a bump and a bruise from crashing into the lighthouse. More fluids and nutrition via a tube, time in a warm-water pool for some feather cleaning and rearranging, and then a warm dryer had this loon at maximum feistiness. Loons are difficult to rehab because they truly hate confinement, so staff wanted as short a stay as possible. Blood work showed that this loon was ready for her silver band, hospital discharge papers and another journey — this time the last — to her ocean home.

A shout-out was made for a volunteer, and within moments, Jeff Robinson e-mailed back his eagerness to do a loon release. The loon went back in a box for another long, quiet car ride, this time to Fort Baker near the Golden Gate Bridge. After logging a couple hundred miles and being helped by many caring humans, this feisty girl was released under the bridge where she could easily swim to her natural home — the Pacific Ocean. May you find lots of fish and stay away from lighthouses. —Karen Benzel

This loon has been adopted as part of International Bird Rescue’s Adopt-a-Bird Program. If you would like to adopt a loon or another species we care for, please visit our adoptions page for more information. Adoptions make unique and meaningful gifts and memorials for loved ones and family.

To sign up for IBR’s Northern California Wings on Wheels program, please e-mail us and we’ll get you on our list.

Loon release video by Jeff Robinson. Click here for more of Robinson’s bird videos.

November 14, 2012

2012 – Alaska Oiled Wildlife Incident

This week, we’re truly putting our “Every Bird Matters” tagline into practice by responding to an oil contamination event that has affected animals on Alaska’s remote St. Lawrence Island.

Along with local villagers, federal and state officials have found a total of seven oiled seabirds and seals on the island, located in the Bering Sea (for more information, read this article in Wednesday’s Anchorage Daily News). Both the origin and type of oil is unknown and currently under investigation.

So far, one live oiled bird has been recovered: a juvenile Thick-billed Murre, which is currently being treated at our Alaska Wildlife Response Center (AWRC) in Anchorage. The AWRC was created in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and remains a vital resource for oiled bird rehabilitation in Alaska.

Thick-billed Murres are fascinating seabirds, nesting on rocky cliff faces and producing eggs that are pointed at one end to help prevent them from rolling off the ledges. Just three weeks after hatching, flightless chicks dive into the icy waters below and begin to swim for hundreds of miles. (Read more about this species here via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Alaska Region.)

This murre came to our center on November 10, and was stabilized and fed for a few days by IBR rehabilitator Julie Skoglund. It was washed on Tuesday, and is currently being waterproofed and living in one of our small rehab pools. We will return this bird back into the wild as soon as it meets its criteria for release, hopefully within a few days.

Though this mystery spill has produced only one live oiled bird thus far, we are prepared and equipped to handle more should they be found. Our job is to care for all birds harmed by human interaction. So, here we are in Alaska, helping a bird that otherwise may not have survived.

Meanwhile, in California, International Bird Rescue is currently caring for birds affected by natural oil seepage on the Pacific coast. Oiled birds include this large, male Western Grebe recently washed at our Los Angeles regional rehabilitation facility.

Update: This bird has been successfully rehabilitated and release. Click here for release photos.

Murre photos/video by Julie Skoglund.

November 10, 2012

Weekend Rounds: Oiled Western Grebe

As you can see on the latest bird count numbers provided by our two wildlife care centers in California, International Bird Rescue has nearly two dozen Western Grebes (Aechmophorus occidentalis) in care for multiple reasons, including this large, oiled male at our center in San Pedro (photographs by center manager Julie Skoglund).

Though the cause of oiling in this case is currently unknown, we believe it to be the result of natural seepage — a common problem affecting seabirds, such as this event in spring 2012 affecting Common Murres.

This grebe has since been washed — we’ll keep you posted on its recovery. (Read more about the wash process here on our website.)

November 9, 2012

Birds in Our Care

Here are the latest numbers reported earlier this week from our Northern and Southern California wildlife care center outreach coordinators, Cheryl Reynolds and Neil Uelman:

Brown Pelicans: 41
Western Grebes: 23
Western Gulls: 11
Eared Grebes: 8
Brandt’s Cormorants: 3
Ruddy Ducks: 2
Pied-billed Grebes: 2
California Gulls: 2
Common Murres: 1
Black-crowned Night Herons: 1
Heerman’s Gulls: 1
Royal Terns: 1
American Coots: 1
American White Pelicans: 1
Canada Geese: 1
Mallard Ducks: 1
Muscovy Ducks: 1

November 8, 2012

Blue-Banded Pelican Contest: Clues and Tidbits

Last week, International Bird Rescue launched our official Blue-Banded Pelican Sighting Contest, sponsored by Eagle Optics, which has generously donated two pairs of beautiful binoculars for our winning adult and youth contestants (click here for official rules).

If you’ve been out scouting for these birds, you may have noticed that many Blue-Banded Pelicans are young and still trying to figure out how to survive on the coast, where food supplies can be limited and the odds of encountering human-related injuries are high.

Photo © Bernardo Alps/PHOTOCETUS. All rights reserved.

This is M16, a Brown Pelican received at our Northern California center on August 30, 2011 suffering from fishing tackle injuries. Then a hatch-year (HY) bird, M16 was successfully treated and released on October 14, 2011 at Ft. Baker in Sausalito under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was not seen again until October 7, 2012 when it was spotted in Monterey.

Here you can see M16 searching for fish scraps on the Monterey Wharf near a commercial fish-processing area. We don’t always like to see our rehab birds begging and looking for scraps at such facilities, but young pelicans are by nature clever and opportunistic in finding fish. This can be to their detriment when they collide with fishermen and fish-processing activities, whether public or commercial.

The good news is that M16 was later spotted just a few days ago on October 30 at the beautiful Port San Luis Harbor in San Luis Obispo. By all accounts, the bird is doing well and can fend for itself!

With the help of state and federal wildlife agency folks, we will be targeting sites like the Monterey Wharf, working to locate where the birds are being fed and where they are being oiled by fish waste, or even subjected to abuse. Our simple goal is to limit the injuries faced by pelicans. And you’re helping out this cause tremendously by reporting Blue-Banded Pelicans like M16 that you may see.

So here’s your sighting clue for our Eagle Optics binoculars contest: Locate local public or commercial fish-processing or cleaning stations, and you’re sure to find a pelican or two in the area. We receive many of our reports from fish-processing stations, from California to Washington state.

Interested in supporting our Blue-Banded Project with a donation? Please click here for more information.

Two Blue-Banded Pelicans recently released by International Bird Rescue. Photo by Cheryl Reynolds.

November 8, 2012

From Our Vet: One Fish-Hooked Pelican’s Remarkable Recovery

On October 1, young adult Brown Pelican 12-1473 was brought to our Los Angeles facility by Redondo Beach Animal Control with a large, multi-hooked piece of fishing tackle attaching the right side of her head to her right wing.

Once our staff freed her from the hooks, it was readily apparent that her wounds were very severe. The wing had numerous hooks in it, thankfully none causing serious damage, but the facial wound was extremely concerning. The hooks were lodged in the skull and mandible (lower jaw) bones at the temporomandibular joint (TMJ—the jaw hinge), and in addition to a large amount of dead tissue in the wound, there were maggots infesting the area. The bird was emaciated and very weak but responded well to fluid therapy and warmth, and later began eating eagerly when fish was offered.

I first examined the bird a few days later, after she had become stronger and more stable medically. From what I had heard, I thought it was going to be a clear-cut case that might warrant euthanasia, as the amount of damage to important structures was likely to be extensive. Brown Pelicans plunge-dive at top speed, mouth first, into the ocean to catch dinner, so damage to the jaw joint could result in a bird unable to feed itself.

We anesthetized her so I could evaluate the injury. I found a large and deep open wound located in the triangular area between the eye, ear and TMJ, with a piece of dead bone hanging free in the air and deep pockets of infected material that penetrated the jaw muscles and skull. The ear canal appeared uninjured at the edge of the wound but had maggots once again infesting it. I removed the dead piece of bone, excavated dead bone from the skull and cleaned out all the debris. Deep in the wound, I discovered that the TMJ itself was open to the outside world, and joint fluid was oozing into the wound. I had a full view of the articular cartilage of the bony surfaces where the mandible hinges in its groove on the skull, kind of like looking down into the surfaces inside a door hinge.

At this point, it looked like euthanasia was the best option for the bird, as open joints are highly likely to suffer damage from infection, which would likely destroy the important cartilage that allows the hinge to move smoothly. This bird was also missing a piece of the jugal bone, the dead bone removed earlier.

But after finishing cleaning all the dead tissue out of the wound and talking to the staff about how well the bird was doing, I changed my mind. She was eating very well and holding her bill in perfectly normal alignment, even snapping aggressively at people like a normal, frisky pelican should, and the joint surfaces of the TMJ looked currently undamaged, although obviously were contaminated and at risk of deterioration.


Considering some of the incredibly nasty wounds from which we have seen pelicans successfully heal, we decided to see what we could do for this bird to facilitate her recovery from this devastating injury. We knew it was a long shot, not only because it was possible the infection would continue to spread despite antibiotic therapy, but also because even if it did heal, the bird could wind up with a jaw joint that didn’t work very well.

We developed a plan of daily wound care to both protect the open joint hinge and foster growth of new tissue in the rest of the wound. Our wound care had to be frequent enough that even if flies laid eggs on the bird, we would be able to remove them before they hatched. Due to the location of the wound, application of wound dressings was a challenge. We could not wrap bandages all the way around the head or else the pouch would be constricted in a manner that prevented the bird from eating. Whenever possible, we allow birds to feed themselves if they are minded to. In this case, I wanted the bird to use the mouth as normally as possible while the joint was healing. We also needed to keep the bird out of the water for a time to prevent the wound dressings from becoming wet with pool water.

Two weeks later, we anesthetized the bird to assess the wound’s progress. I once again found a deep hole with a lot of debris inside, although it was only about one-fourth the diameter of the original wound. Once I cleaned it out and inspected it with magnification, I found that the joint had closed over, and all the tissue inside the hole appeared to be healthy granulation tissue. Due to ongoing concerns with fly strike, and considering how healthy the tissue appeared inside the hole, I decided to suture the wound closed. The bird was able to finally take a bath and enjoy roaming around our pelican aviary.

As of November 1, after a month of treatment, the injury has completely healed, and there is no evidence that the remaining muscles and bones of the jaw are having further problems. The range of motion of the joint is near normal, and the bird is able to eat well and snap at our staff and volunteers with normal-seeming vigor. All medications and treatments have been discontinued, and we are planning to keep the bird a few more weeks to allow any final internal reorganization of the jaw tissue to become as strong as possible before she needs to start plunge diving for dinner out on the ocean again. Meanwhile, she is spending time with other pelicans in our aviary and regaining flight strength and endurance. Release is expected later this month.



Dr. Rebecca Duerr is International Bird Rescue’s staff veterinarian. She received her BS in Marine Biology from San Francisco State University and her DVM and MPVM degrees from the University of California at Davis.

November 7, 2012

Cosco Busan, Five Years Later

Today is the fifth anniversary of the Cosco Busan Oil Spill in the San Francisco Bay. To mark the occasion, graphic designer Jordan Dravis created this infographic to remind us of this disaster, as well as the selfless efforts of many Bay Area residents who came together to help oiled birds in need. (Lead photo by Glen Tepke from our photo archives.)

About the artist: Born and raised in Wisconsin, Jordan Dravis moved to Florida in 2003 and has been catching rays ever since. Since his first days building worlds with Legos, he’s always been interested in building and designing experiences, and fascinated with how people perceive and interact with the world.

November 3, 2012

Birds, Bands, and Binoculars

Dear Friends,

What bird looks a bit like a flying dinosaur, yet has the precision and power to soar majestically and dive for its food? The iconic California Brown Pelican has long been an indicator species for changes in our environment. Once decimated by DDT use, their populations have bounced back, and we want to know more about where they go and the problems they encounter once they are cared for and released from one of our wildlife hospitals.

Starting today, International Bird Rescue is unveiling a special Blue-Banded Pelican Contest. We are asking folks both young and old to go out and look for pelicans with blue bands on their legs, and then report the information (the highly visible number on the band and where they were seen) via our online reporting system (read more about this program here).

Your efforts will be rewarded! The top adult and youth band reporter will win a pair of Eagle Optics binoculars and become an honorary Pelican Partner, which includes a VIP tour of one of our wildlife hospitals and the opportunity for you to release a pelican back into nature. As you aid the important scientific research on the travels of the Pelecanus occidentalis, you will be helping in their conservation.

Photo by Marie Travers

For the past 20 years, International Bird Rescue has banded more than 5,000 rehabilitated brown pelicans. In 2009, we began placing large blue plastic leg bands on our released pelicans so that the public can more easily spot their identification numbers. This is part of our ongoing post-release evaluation of these birds so that we can get an idea of their survival and travels. In September, we banded and released our 1,000th blue-banded brown pelican, so there are many banded pelicans out there. These birds have been seen from Mexico to Washington state, as well as a few in the Gulf states.

What’s next?

Grab your binoculars and keep an eye out for these wonderful birds. The contest runs from November 3 through January 2, 2013. Winners will be announced on January 5, 2013. We will be posting your sighting stories and hints on where to find pelicans in upcoming blog posts and on our Facebook page. More info on rules and contest details can be found here.

Help us make Every Bird Matter — and Count, too!

Good luck,

International Bird Rescue


November 3, 2012

Ventura County Star on Pelican Injury Influx

File photo via VCStar.com

The Ventura County Star reports on numerous Brown Pelicans with slashed pouches and other injuries currently of unknown cause:

Numerous brown pelicans have been injured recently at the Ventura and Channel Islands harbors, prompting volunteers to put up signs advising the public to report animal abuse.

It was unclear, however, whether the injuries were deliberately caused by humans, experts said.

“If nobody sees how a bird was injured, you don’t really know how it happened,” said Julia Parker, director of the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network in Goleta. “We can’t have eyes on what happens at sea and in all hours of the day and night.” […]

A brown pelican was rescued Thursday in Ventura with a sliced pouch and will be taken to International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles center to be sewn up and rehabilitated.

Julie Skoglund, manager of the Los Angeles center, said it has received more than 600 injured pelicans this year alone, including those sent from the Santa Barbara bird rescue group. A sister center in San Francisco has received more than 350, she said.

As the newspaper notes, Brown Pelicans are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The maximum penalty for harming or killing such a bird is a $15,000 fine and six months in jail. Read the full report with AP contributions here.

International Bird Rescue has worked with slashed-pouch pelicans countless times before. One of the more memorable cases was that of “Slash,” a juvenile female who amazingly endured three surgeries and hundreds of stitches before she was released in 2004, when Brown Pelicans remained on the endangered species list. From our archives:

Found in the Redondo Beach area, her pouch slit from ear to ear, “Slash” spent two months in rehabilitation at International Bird Rescue in San Pedro, [which] has cared for 154 of the endangered birds [in 2004], most starving juveniles who couldn’t find food, but also many with fishing/line hook injures, and some victims of abuse by humans.