Every Bird Matters
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Archive for March 2018

March 30, 2018

Sometimes in a Spill Crisis, No Wildlife is the Best Outcome

Spill Location, Shuyak Island, Alaska

In February, just as many of our team were arriving for our co-hosting duties of this year’s National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association conference in Anaheim, CA, International Bird Rescue was called to respond to an oil spill in the remote islands of the Kodiak Archipelago.

The details were only just emerging: a 3,000-gallon bladder stored inside a dockside building fell into the ocean when strong winds caused the building to collapse.

Spectacled Eider pair, photographed by Jay Holcomb

Bad weather and surging 15′ waves prevented anyone in the response team from reaching the location in that first day, so available wildlife information was limited. Local knowledge of the area suggested that sea and river otters, seals, whales, and a variety of birds were regularly seen in the region. Our biggest concern was that the location of the spill (within a narrow strait) could mean that a large number of seabirds were weathering the storm in that very spot.

Among those of highest concern were vulnerable sea ducks like STELLER’S EIDER and SPECTACLED EIDER (shown left). These species tend to overwinter in massive flocks, making them especially vulnerable to oil spills because a large group could be affected all at once.

This effect was the case during the Treasure Oil Spill in South Africa in the year 2000 in which we participated as part of the

Photo of Treasure Oil Spill Penguin Rescue

International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) now-defunct spill response team, which affected more than 40,000 endangered African Penguins and still represents the largest and most successful wildlife response in history. To the right is an image from that spill response and demonstrates our worst fears for a large-scale disaster.

Since the spill location was hard to access, we were kept on standby in Anchorage alongside the incident command while we prepared for the possibility of oiled birds at International Bird Rescue’s Alaska Wildlife Response Center (IBR-AWRC). Preparations included developing a wildlife response plan with other wildlife agencies present, walking through the center, checking availability of our extensive response team for immediate deployment, performing inventory checks on our clinical supplies as well as those of our partner Alaska Chadux Corporation, an oil spill response organization which handles the environmental cleanup while we handle the wildlife.

Trusty bottle of Dawn dish soap in the response container ready to be deployed

The response effort achieved “boots on the ground” on the third day as the first responders were able to access the spill site and give a better assessment of actual impacts. There were no reports of oiled wildlife and all wildlife seen anywhere in the vicinity were behaving normally. This positive result was likely the result of two combining factors: harsh weather and the dense nature of the oil product that spilled.

To read more about the official account: Port William Shuyak Island Bunker C Spill.

As the week progressed, there were still no reports of oiled wildlife and we were able to spend our early evenings after the work day conducting a Bird Rescue tradition: Wildlife Surveys. Wildlife surveys involve seeking out native animals and birds in their natural habitat because:

  1. they prepare us well for the next spill by acclimating the team to the specific dynamics in a location, and
  2. since we’re all animal lovers, they provide rare opportunities to see wildlife from other regions.

Among the sightings from the Anchorage area: several MOOSE with yearlings, DALL SHEEP, COMMON RAVENS, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, BLACK-CAPPED and BOREAL CHICKADEES (great for comparison), BROWN CREEPERS, COMMON and HOARY REDPOLLS, PINE GROSBEAKS, a very cooperative SHORT-EARED OWL, and a NORTHERN SHRIKE.

When I return to Alaska as a trainer in July, I’ll be looking for my next target: BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS, and I’ll keep you posted how that goes.

We are glad to report that to date no wildlife have been seen as affected by this spill. The cleanup effort continues and will likely do so for quite a while. In a spill response, however, no wildlife is often the best possible outcome. 

March 29, 2018

The Amazing Albatross!

Editor’s Note: This piece was prepared by our long-time volunteer, Joanna Chin. Photos were provided by her husband, Byron Chin. 

Waved albatross and chick, Española Island, Galápagos- Photo by Byron Chin

 

Have you ever seen an albatross? Unless you’ve spent a lot of time at sea or have gone out specifically looking for them, you probably have not. Albatrosses are remarkable birds that spend the vast majority of their lives at sea, never touching land for years at a time. If you have seen an albatross, you’re not likely to forget it: they are large, strikingly beautiful birds.

Laysan albatross resting near its nesting colony, Kaua’i, HI – Photo by Byron Chin

 

They have incredible wingspans; the wandering albatross, in particular, can have a wingspan of 12 feet! Their long wings allow albatrosses to glide over the waves on the open sea without having to flap. Their gliding flight does not use much energy, which is what enables them to travel hundreds of miles per day. The downside to this style of flight is that they need brisk winds in order to take off, and sometimes need to run into the wind with wings outstretched to help them generate the lift required to take off.  While ungainly on land, they are incredibly graceful in the air.

 

Black-footed albatross “running” across the sea while taking off, off the coast of Half Moon Bay, CA – Photo by Byron Chin

 

Albatrosses are members of the tubenose family, so named for the little tube-like structures on their bills (see below photo). Unlike many birds, albatrosses have a keen sense of smell thanks to their tube noses – they can smell fish oil from miles away.  They cannot dive deeply, so they obtain their prey from the surface of the sea. They eat fish, squid, and invertebrates, and will also scavenge waste from fishing vessels.

 

Note the ‘tube nose’ of this black-footed albatross, off the coast of Half Moon Bay, CA – Photo by Byron Chin

 

Black-footed albatross and young Western gulls with Garibaldi fish head, off the coast of Half Moon Bay, CA – Photo by Byron Chin

 

Albatrosses mate for life and have an exceedingly low rate of “divorce” so long as both partners are still alive. They have wonderful “dances” that are specific to each species; these dances are used to find mates and reinforce the pair bond. A pair of albatrosses will typically lay a single egg every other year, and it takes an entire year for both parents to raise that one chick.

A waved albatross “sky-points” as part of its dance for its mate, Española Island, Galápagos – Photo by Byron Chin

 

Laysan albatross chick, Kaua’i, HI – Photo by Byron Chin

 

Both parents contribute equally to brooding and chick-feeding duties. Laysan albatrosses have been known to travel 1,600 miles over the course of 17 days to find food for their chicks! Once the chick fledges, s/he will spend the next 5-7 years at sea before returning to land to look for a mate. During their time at sea, the birds will never once touch land. Once young albatrosses return to land and find a mate, their first attempts at chick rearing are often unsuccessful. Most breeding pairs do not successfully fledge a chick until the age of 8 or 9 years. Birds who are still too young to breed but who return to the colony are very curious and social, and often “visit” the nests and chicks of other birds!

Northern royal albatrosses greeting each other on their breeding grounds, Dunedin, NZ – Photo by Byron Chin

 

Albatrosses are long-lived birds; some individuals are known to be over 60 years of age. The most famous (and possibly the oldest) is a Laysan albatross known as Wisdom, who was banded on Midway Atoll in 1956 when she was estimated to be five years old based on the fact that she had returned to land. She’s been raising chicks at the same nest site ever since. Interestingly, while most albatrosses raise a chick every other year, Wisdom and her mate have fledged nine chicks since 2006! She’s laid yet another egg as of December 2017, at the age of 67. You can read more about Wisdom’s amazing life here.

 

Laysan albatross soaring near its nesting colony, Kaua’i, HI – Photo by Byron Chin

 

With albatrosses having such slow rates of reproduction over the course of their long lives, it’s easy to see where any threat could absolutely decimate their population. Sadly, albatross species worldwide face a number of dire threats:

  • Poor fishing practices: Longline fishing, gill nets, and drift nets kill astonishing numbers of albatrosses and other seabirds each year. It is estimated that longline fishing kills 300,000 seabirds every year. One study estimates that the number of albatrosses killed just by Japanese longline fleets in the Southern oceans is 44,000 per year. Improvements in fishing practices can dramatically reduce seabird deaths. For example, weighting long lines so they sink out of reach of birds more quickly and installing bird-scaring streamer lines (which birds interpret as a barrier between them and baited hooks) reduce the number of albatrosses ensnared and killed by longline fishing. Fishing at night has also been helpful, as albatrosses locate their prey by sight as well as smell. There is promising data on a device known as the Hookpod that covers the barbed end of a baited hook until it has sunk to a depth of 10 meters, where albatrosses can’t reach it. Tactics that reduce seabird deaths are beneficial to fishermen as well; a hook that catches a bird is one that does not catch a fish, and seabirds can pluck bait off many hooks before they themselves are ensnared, thus wasting bait from the perspective of the fisherman and further reducing the odds that a line will catch a fish. The USA has adopted these tactics, as have several other countries, and they have reduced the number of seabird deaths. However, because albatrosses have such a wide range over the seas unless every country does this, there will still be needless deaths.
  • Plastic waste in the ocean. You’ve probably heard of the Pacific garbage patch, and that’s only the start of the problem. We, humans, use a shocking amount of plastic, and a lot of it ends up in our waterways, and ultimately, the ocean. All seabirds are impacted when they mistake plastic debris for food, or when they become entangled in plastics, such as six-pack rings or fishing line. Tubenoses, and especially albatrosses, are disproportionately impacted for two reasons. One is that they pluck their prey from the surface of the ocean, and plastic floats. The second is that floating plastics grow algae, and there is a compound in algae that, as it breaks down, emits a particular sulfur odor. This same odor is emitted by krill, which eat algae. Seabirds love to eat krill, and because the tubenoses are so driven by scent, they mistakenly eat algae-covered plastic thinking that it is food. The adults feed plastics to their chicks, which can cause gastrointestinal blockages, toxicity from chemicals leached from the plastics, and starvation because a stomach full of plastic cannot accommodate actual food. A recent study found that 90% of the world’s seabirds have eaten plastic, and that number will only rise if plastic pollution increases.
  • Introduced predators. Albatrosses have evolved to nest on small Pacific islands where no mammalian (or marsupial) predators existed. The introduction of dogs, cats, rats, mice, stoats, mongoose, possums, etc. has been catastrophic to albatrosses and other ground-nesting seabirds. Dogs and cats kill the adult birds and chicks, while rats, mongoose, and possums will eat their eggs. There has been a disturbing trend recently of mice eating Tristan albatross chicks alive on Gough Island where they breed, causing catastrophic nesting failure. Further, starting in 2015 on Midway Atoll, mice began attacking, eating, and indeed sometimes killing adult albatrosses as they nested. The adults seem unable to defend against such attacks; horrifyingly, they faithfully sit on their nests as they are eaten alive.
  • Climate change. The majority of albatrosses worldwide nest on small islands in the Pacific, many of which are just barely above sea level. As global warming progresses and the ice caps melt, sea level is going to rise. At first, nesting colonies will be vulnerable to powerful storms that destroy their nests and chicks. This is happening now – scientists agree that the extremes in weather we are seeing right now are directly driven by human-caused climate change. Eventually, as sea level rises, the islands albatrosses nest on will be completely underwater. Albatrosses have extremely high nest site fidelity: they will stubbornly continue to return to the same nesting site, regardless of how inappropriate it might come to be. This was illustrated on a US Naval base on the island of Kaua’i. In recent years, conservation programs have collected a number of chicks from nests in low-lying breeding colonies and reared them on higher ground in hopes that the chicks, when they return from their years at sea, will return to the place they were raised to start a new nesting colony on safer ground. This has been done with the black-footed albatross, the Chatham Island albatross, the short-tailed albatross, and the Laysan albatross, and may be done with other species in the future.

 

Here’s What You Can Do To Save These Beautiful Birds:

  • Buy ONLY sustainably caught seafood! The Monterey Bay Aquarium runs the Seafood Watch program, which has compiled an enormous amount of information to help consumers select seafood that is sustainably caught. They don’t just tell you which fish to avoid, they tell you why you should avoid it. It encourages consumers to avoid all fish caught using poor longline techniques and other fishing practices that kill seabirds, including albatrosses. You can search by species of fish or your favorite kind of sushi! http://www.seafoodwatch.org
  • Reduce your use of plastics, particularly single-use plastics. The Natural Resources Defense Council has an excellent list here: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/10-ways-reduce-plastic-pollution. Especially try to avoid single-use plastics. These are things you use once and throw away, including plastic drinking straws, water bottles, coffee cup lids, stir sticks, plastic bags, plastic wrap, plastic packaging, anything with “microbeads” – the list goes ON! There are excellent alternatives to pretty much every single-use plastic item. Every piece of plastic you don’t use is a piece of plastic that can’t end up in the ocean, or in the belly of an albatross chick.
  • Support predator eradication efforts. Introduced predators on Pacific islands have absolutely no place in the ecosystem there and do untold harm. If you live in a country that is lucky enough to have nesting colonies of albatrosses, make sure you vote for people and policies that will support them and fund their conservation. You can also donate directly to groups that are working toward predator eradication on Pacific islands. Such efforts are ongoing in Hawaii (including Midway Atoll), New Zealand, Gough Island (via the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), the Galápagos Islands, and many other places. While we’re at it, don’t forget to keep your cat indoors! While you probably don’t have seabirds nesting nearby, outdoor cats are an introduced mammalian predator in any ecosystem. Outdoor cats are estimated to kill between 1.3 and 4 billion birds per year in the USA alone! Indoor kitties live longer, healthier lives to boot.
  • VOTE! While we can all take steps to reduce our carbon footprint, the biggest impact comes from national policy. We need to elect representatives who will advocate and legislate for a healthy planet and a sustainable future. We need policy shaped by people who believe that climate change is a real and imminent threat to our planet and all the species that live on it. We need leaders who believe in and encourage science, and who know that change is necessary and possible to preserve our natural world for generations to come. No election is too small. Even a single citywide plastic bag ban has a measurable impact on plastic waste. Vote early, vote often, and tell your friends and family to vote. The lives of albatrosses, and of all creatures, depend on it.

White-capped mollymawks resting on the sea outside Dusky Sound, NZ – Photo by Byron

 

Sources:

 

 

March 28, 2018

Blue-banded Brown Pelican M38 Sighted in Breeding Colony off California Coast

Editor’s Note: This story was prepared by staff member, Suzie Kosina.

It isn’t often that we receive reports of our banded birds on breeding colonies, especially considering the colonies are typically in remote and sometimes, protected areas.  However, these locations are commonly monitored by biologists where they track nest locations, chick counts, breeding pairs, etc.

Just last summer, we received a blue-banded Brown Pelican sighting report of previous Bird Rescue patient, E17 on a nesting colony in Baja California.  You can read more about E17’s sighting by GECI biologist Emmanuel Miramontes here.  We are very excited to report that a second blue-banded Brown Pelican has been spotted in a breeding colony near a nest of chicks in March of this year!  In this photo, by Chris Berry of the California Institute of Environmental Studies (CIES), M38 was spotted in post-breeding/chick feeding plumage alongside two Brown Pelican chicks.  The photo was taken on Santa Barbara Island located in the Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Southern California.

 

Photo credit: Chris Berry of CIES, 2018, Channel Islands, CA

 

Photo credit: Chris Berry of CIES, 2018, Channel Islands, CA

 

M38 was a patient of ours in 2011.  While in care, the bird’s bill was measured to determine the sex and the plumage was evaluated to determine the age.  Based on this information, we knew we were working with an adult (at least 3-4 years old), male Brown Pelican at the time of admission.  He came to us with severe emaciation, hypoproteinemia, and anemia in addition to weakness, bruising and abrasions on the legs, and pressure lesions on the feet, indicating he had been in poor condition for quite some time.  With treatment at our SF Bay Wildlife Center in Fairfield, CA, he recovered quickly, more than doubling his red blood cell fraction and adding about 50% of his original weight. After his release in Alameda, CA in late 2011, he was spotted one other time in early 2015 at Moss Landing, CA as captured in a stunning portrait by Josh Whaley.  As of now, M38 would be at least 10 years old.

For almost 40 years from 1970 to 2009, Brown Pelicans were listed as an endangered species due to severely declining populations and even local extinction in some areas as a result of pesticides, such as DDT, that caused eggshell thinning.  Thankfully, the EPA banned the use of DDT in 1972 and a recovery program for California Brown Pelicans was approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1983.  In Southern California prior to the ban, the majority of this DTT was dumped over the course of 30 years by the Montrose Chemical Corporation along the coasts of San Pedro, CA and Santa Catalina Island.  More recently, in 2011, a settlement was reached that established funding for restoration and monitoring projects for numerous seabird species known to nest on offshore islands along the Baja and California coasts.

 

Photo credit: Josh Whaley, 2015, Moss Landing, CA

 

We are happy to see M38 doing so well and are greatly appreciative of the report submitted by CIES.  While our two organizations work on very different aspects of saving a once declining population, our efforts complement each other in the long-term goals of re-establishing healthy, breeding populations of California Brown Pelicans. Jim Howard, Seabird Lead at CIES, has kindly shared a few comments about their monitoring project that lead to the sighting of M38:

“California Institute of Environmental Studies (CIES; www.ciesresearch.org) has been involved in monitoring the California Brown Pelican nesting colonies at Anacapa and Santa Barbara Island, California since 1976. Currently, our work with this species is focused on monitoring the nest numbers and productivity (chicks fledged per nest) on these two islands. Once every 3-4 weeks our staff visits the colonies, and counts attending adults and occupied nests, recording the numbers and ages of pelican chicks seen in nests. Scanning the colony with spotting scopes and binoculars gives us the ability to observe interesting behaviors and record incidental data such as color banded pelicans.”

To learn more about our banding program and how to report a banded bird, please visit us at: https://www.bird-rescue.org/our-work/research-and-education/banding-program.aspx

 

March 24, 2018

The Dazzling Diversity of Gull Behavior

Editor’s Note: Thank you to our long-time volunteer, Joanna Chin, for preparing this wonderful piece and to her husband, Byron Chin, for the beautiful photography. A special thank you to guest photographer, Amar Ayyash as well.

A Western gull parent tends to its chick. Alcatraz Island, San Francisco, CA, June 2017. Photo by Byron Chin.

When most people picture gulls, they think of gray and white birds squawking while soaring at the seashore, possibly also trying to steal food from beachgoers. While hanging out at the shore and pilfering food is surely part of the gull lifestyle, gulls are a wildly diverse group of birds with lots of different and fascinating behaviors! Here are just a few:


Bonaparte’s Gull: The only tree-nesting gull
While all other gulls nest on the ground, on rooftops, or on rocky outcroppings, the Bonaparte’s gull builds its nest in the branches of conifers in Canada and Alaska. Instead of wandering around on the ground like other young gulls do, their chicks stay in the nest until they’re ready to fledge. A picture of a Bonaparte’s gull in its nest can be found here: https://www.arkive.org/bonapartes-gull/larus-philadelphia/image-G120205.html

Bonaparte’s gull in non-breeding plumage. Don Edwards NWR, Fremont, CA, January 2013. Photo by Byron Chin.

Swallow-tailed gull: The only nocturnal gull
While most gulls are diurnal, or active during the day, the swallow-tailed gull does all its hunting at night. This gull is endemic to the Galápagos islands, and its preferred food is squid. It makes sense that the swallow-tailed gull is nocturnal, as squid come to the surface of the water at night, where the gull can get at them (since gulls can’t dive well at all). The swallow-tailed gull has particularly large eyes to help it see better at night, and it has a white tip to its black bill, to help the chicks find it when they feed at night. This gull spends most of its day resting, and it has a white ‘eye spot’ on its lower eyelid, so from a distance you might think the bird is awake when really it is sleeping.

Swallow-tailed gull, Española Island, Galápagos, July 2016. Note the very large eye and light bill tip, both adaptations to its nocturnal lifestyle. Photo by Byron Chin.

Sleeping swallow-tailed gull, Española Island, Galápagos, July 2016. Note the eyespot on the lower eyelid – you might think this gull is awake and watching you, but it’s not! Photo by Byron Chin.

Heermann’s gull: Likes to steal a meal
Heermann’s gulls are renowned kleptoparasites: that is, they derive a large portion of their diet from fish they steal from other birds, usually brown pelicans. If you’re ever lucky enough to see a brown pelican plunge-diving for food off the California coast in the fall or wintertime, look closely: you’re liable to see Heermann’s gulls following them at close range. Sometimes they go so far as to land right on the pelican’s head, so they can reach into the pouch for a fish! Most gull species will steal food from another bird (or even another gull) given the opportunity, but some, like the Heermann’s gull, are particularly troublesome to other birds. The laughing gull also frequently kleptoparasitizes brown pelicans on the southern and eastern coasts of the USA.

Heermann’s gulls harassing brown pelicans, Half Moon Bay, CA, July 2017. Photo by Byron Chin.

Heermann’s gulls closing in on a brown pelican that just dove for fish. Crescent City, CA, September 2015. Photo by Byron Chin.

California gulls: A different kind of fly catcher
California gulls enjoy eating brine flies, but they aren’t really maneuverable enough to catch tiny flies on the wing. Fortunately for the California gull, brine flies tend to alight in large groups on salty marshland shores. The gulls will run along the shore at full speed with their beaks open, snapping up flies as they go! This is referred to as “ram feeding.”

California gull ram feeding on brine flies, Don Edwards NWR, Fremont, CA, September 2012. Photo by Byron Chin.

Starfish strategists
Large white-headed gulls are important predators of starfish here on the West Coast. They have two general strategies for eating these echinoderms. When they encounter a large starfish, gulls are more likely to flip it over and peck and tear at its underside. They have also been noted to take advantage of the starfish’s tendency to shed arms when attacked. A gull will bash the starfish against the ground until it breaks off all the arms, then swallow the arms and center separately. For smaller starfish, a gull might pick up the entire starfish and cram two or three arms into its bill. It will then push the remaining arms together with its gape as it forces the starfish into its mouth, making it into a compact rectangular shape that the gull eventually swallows. Different strategies, but same result: gulls are a major predator of starfish along the west coast.

First cycle Western gull pecking at a starfish. Monterey, CA, December 2013. Photo by Byron Chin.

Olympic gull cramming a starfish into its bill. Crescent City, CA, September 2015. Photo by Byron Chin.

Western gull taking off with the center of a broken-apart starfish. Monterey, CA, February 2018. Photo by Byron Chin.

 

Opposites attract
As if identifying gulls weren’t challenging enough, with many species looking similar and multiple plumages within a species, they like to hybridize. One of the most common hybrids on the west coast is the Olympic gull: this is a hybrid between Western and glaucous-winged gulls. They are large birds with characteristics between the two: they’ve got pink to orange orbital rings (ring of colored flesh around the eye), speckled heads during winter, gray backs that are lighter than Western but darker than glaucous-winged gulls, and wingtips that are darker than their backs. Other gull hybrids found elsewhere in the USA are the Cook Inlet gull (glaucous-winged x herring), Great Lakes gull (great black backed gull x herring), and the Appledore gull (lesser black-backed gull x herring). There have even been hybrids between the laughing gull and ring-billed gull; two medium-sized gull species that look little alike, but do occasionally hybridize!

 

Olympic gull, Half Moon Bay, CA, March 2018. Photo by Byron Chin. Note the lighter back than the Western gulls below and the wingtips that are darker than the back, both characteristic of Olympic gulls.

 

Laughing gull x Ring-billed gull hybrid, Calumet Park; March 6 2011. Photo courtesy of Amar Ayyash.

 

Appledore gull, Florida, January. Photo courtesy of Amar Ayyash.

 

Cook inlet gull, Tukwila, WA. December 30, 2011. Photo courtesy of Amar Ayyash.

 

Great Lakes gull, Lake County, Illinois. 03 January 2018. Photo courtesy of Amar Ayyash.

 

Home is where the gull is
Most gulls exhibit strong nest site fidelity; that is, they nest in the same spot year after year, particularly if they’ve been successful in previous years. They also exhibit strong pair bonds, with the vast majority of gulls mating for life, so long as both partners are still alive. Gulls have also been known to form same-sex pairs, with female-female pairs often raising chicks! This happens because gulls have a fairly high rate of “extra-pair copulations,” that is, while they maintain the pair bond with their chosen partner, they’ll sometimes mate with another bird. This helps keep genetic diversity high while maintaining all the benefits of stable pair bonds. If you frequent an area where gulls nest, pay attention: odds are very good that you will notice nests in the same spots year after year. If you do, it’s very likely you’ll be seeing the same individual birds year after year as well!

 

We have been watching this Western gull family nest every year in the same exact spot since 2013. Here they are with young chicks in June 2013. San Francisco, CA. Photo by Byron Chin.

 

Here they are with young chicks again in June 2017. Photo by Byron Chin.

 

They even hold their territory when it isn’t nesting season. Here they are doing the “choking” display, where they puff out their necks and point their bills at a spot they’d like to nest while making a low-pitched sound. This is, not surprisingly, exactly the spot where they build their nest each and every year. San Francisco, December 2017. Photo by Byron Chin.

 

One good preen deserves another
When a bird cleans its feathers with its beak, this is known as preening. When one bird preens another, this is called allopreening. Allopreening serves both a social and a practical purpose: it is used to reinforce social bonds, and it also helps birds preen their head feathers and remove lice, which is difficult for a bird to do by itself. Interestingly, small gulls tend to allopreen, but the large white-headed gulls such as Western, glaucous-winged, and herring gulls, do not. They have on occasion been observed foraging for parasites on the feathers of another bird, but this is not the same as allopreening. The bird being foraged upon in these situations typically finds the other gull to be an unwelcome annoyance, whereas allopreening is an enjoyable activity for both birds involved. No one quite knows why large white-headed gulls don’t seem to allopreen, but it’s fun to watch the smaller gulls engage in this behavior.

 

A pair of California Gulls and their two chicks at the Baylands. The male is giving the female a nice preen. Photo by Byron Chin.

 

Swallow-tailed gull allopreening her chick. Española Island, Galápagos, July 2016. Photo by Byron Chin.

 

A Swallow-tailed Gull preening her mate on Isla Espanola. Photo by Byron Chin.

 

Hatch-year red-billed gull allopreening its sibling. Dunedin, New Zealand, December 2017. Photo by Byron Chin.

 

Dance, dance!
Going around with gulls “dancing,” that is, tapping their feet quickly on the ground. The gulls aren’t really dancing, what they are doing is paddling for worms, also known as worm charming. There are a couple of theories as to why this works. Some believe the vibrations mimic the movement of a digging mole, a major predator of earthworms, so when the worms feel the vibration they come to the surface to escape. Others think the tapping of the gulls’ feet mimics rain, and worms naturally surface when it rains. Either way, gulls have figured this out, and many species perform this foot-tapping behavior. When the worms do surface, the gulls eat them. The New Zealand Department of Conservation has a wonderful video of red-billed gulls paddling for worms here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgw-Z0NQsW0

Now that you know some of the strange and wonderful things gulls do, keep an eye out next time you’re in an area they frequent! You never know what you might see these intelligent and beautiful seabirds do.

March 20, 2018

Birding the Napa River with International Bird Rescue and Sierra Club’s Solano Group: A Flyway Festival Outing

Editor’s Note: This piece was prepared by Sierra Club trip leader, Phil Kohlmetz.

International Bird Rescue’s Executive Director, JD Bergeron, leads a group of nature enthusiasts on a birding walk.

On Saturday, February 10, 2018, International Bird Rescue collaborated with the Sierra Club for a special birding experience in conjunction with the 2018 Flyway Festival (an annual celebration of migratory birds traveling through the San Francisco Bay Area).

The walk was a rare chance to participate in a program led by Bird Rescue’s own Executive Director JD Bergeron. He partnered with passionate naturalist, veteran backpacker, and local Sierra Club trip leader, Phil Kohlmetz. The two led a dozen people on a guided walk along the Napa River in American Canyon, CA, not far from our San Francisco Bay Area/Delta Wildlife Center. The location was special to Bird Rescue, as we often release rehabilitated birds at this very location.

The group walked 4 miles along the levees of the Napa River Bay Trail. (Quite far for many birders!) JD shared his love and deep knowledge of migratory aquatic birds, songbirds, and raptors, noting over 60 different species. Phil highlighted local environmental restoration efforts, as this area was once home to an active landfill, as well as a massive salt harvesting operation. In addition, Phil talked about local efforts to create a regional park district to administer and further protect this sensitive and restored habitat.

Participants included experienced birders and current supporters of International Bird Rescue, Solano County residents, Sierra Club members, first-time birders, and long-time naturalists. The mix of skill and interest levels meant lots of opportunities for education and cross-pollination. While the focus was certainly on bird identification, we discussed other natural processes such as reclamation, plant succession, and avian migration.

Programs like this are a great example of the types of partnerships that Bird Rescue is developing as we put our new mission (inspiring stewardship of our global waters by rescuing and protecting aquatic birds) into practice.

Follow our social media feed and our website for upcoming opportunities to participate directly with Bird Rescue’s public education programs:
www.bird-rescue.org.

March 19, 2018

International Bird Rescue Co-Hosts NWRA Symposium 2018

 

Center Manager, Kylie Clatterbuck, led an informative presentation and lab on Waterproofing and Protective wraps. Participants were able to practice applying protective wraps to various types of aquatic birds and learn how to examine such birds during waterproofing checks. Photo by Angie Trumbo

The National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association held their 2018 “Partnering for Wildlife” Symposium in Anaheim, CA during the first week of March. International Bird Rescue was proud to Co-Host the event along with Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center, Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network and California Wildlife Center. Staff and volunteers spent many hours preparing presentations, labs, special events and entertainment for the symposium. Those hours were invested well, as “Partnering for Wildlife” was a huge success!

The NWRA symposium was a wonderful opportunity for wildlife rehabilitators to network, share their experiences, and learn a wealth of new information from other organizations and experts. Bird Rescue was fortunate to have many staff and volunteers involved with the event being held so close to home.

The 2018 symposium truly was an event of partnership, from the collaboration of the host organizations to the cooperative seminars that were held throughout the conference. Bird Rescue Operations Manager, Julie Skoglund, and Veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr worked with representatives from Bird Ally X, Focus Wildlife, Oiled Wildlife Care Network, and Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research to hold an all-day Oiled Wildlife Seminar on rehabilitating oiled birds – from intake to release. The team gave presentations and led discussion groups to help teach participants about the complexities of caring for oiled wildlife. The process involves far more than simply removing the oil, and topics included stabilization, nutritional needs, the importance of blood values, waterproofing, and release conditioning in addition to the wash process. The seminar leaders were all able to share their knowledge and experience by going over case examples from their various locations. Bird Rescue was honored to work alongside these groups to help improve the care of oiled wildlife across our nation.

Dr. Duerr also worked alongside several other wildlife veterinarians and California Department of Fish and Wildlife to teach an all-day seminar for licensed Veterinarians and Veterinary Technicians to learn skills needed to treat wildlife patients in private practice and the related rules and regulations. Dr. Duerr also gave a talk on the harmful algal bloom that affected so many of our loon patients last spring, plus lecture and labs on avian anatomy and necropsy.

 

March 15, 2018

Founder of Bird Rescue Celebrates 81 Years of Inspired Living

Alice Berkner releases a Commun Murre

In 1971, when she was just 34 years old, Alice Berkner did something that had never been done before: she faced down the seemingly impossible task of rescuing and protecting 7,000 wild birds that had been contaminated in a massive oil spill near the Golden Gate Bridge.

The plight of these birds inspired Alice, along with a handful of concerned volunteers, to do everything they could to save them. The work they did together became foundation of International Bird Rescue, which now has worked nearly 250 spills around the world.

Today, we continue to take inspiration from Alice’s example and we endeavor to bring new solutions to the seemingly impossible:

Alice Berkner with a Long-tailed Duck

  • In January 2015, we rescued over 300 birds contaminated with a “mystery goo”, bringing our crisis response experience to a non-oil spill challenge.
  • In September 2015, we took in over 500 starving and ill common murres from the Pacific Coast, seemingly the victims of changing ocean temperatures which may have been caused by humans.
  • We are currently conducting a study into better treatments for typical wounds seen in seabirds to improve their survival chances.

We have expanded our mission beyond oil spills to all areas that impact wild birds, particularly urban wildlife conflict, fishing line & fish hooks, orphaning caused by habitat disturbance, and other large-scale crises. We aim to inspire stewardship of our global waters–both marine and fresh–by continuing Alice’s legacy of rescuing and protecting the birds that live, swim, and feed there.

It all comes down to a basic premise: birds and all wildlife have as much right to this planet as we humans do, and we owe whatever advantages we can provide in exchange for the new challenges we have introduced.

Please join me in celebrating Alice Berkner, her contributions to a cleaner and more just world, and to the message of hope that she has given us by donating to raise a $1,000 or more together!

March 14, 2018

2018 –Ventura Oil Seep Response

Photo of oiled seabird called a Western Grebe beiung washed at International Bird Rescue.

An oiled Western Grebe, a seabird that spends the majority of its life in open ocean, gets cleaned of natural oil seep at Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center.

By Kylie Clatterbuck, Los Angeles Wildlife Center Manager

Late last month International Bird Rescue received the news that our friends at Santa Barbara Wildlife (SBW) were seeing an unusually large number of beached oiled birds along the coast near Ventura Harbor.  Oiled birds can be a common occurrence this time of year due to the ocean’s natural oil seeps and the migrating birds who overwinter in Southern California waters. However by the end of February 2018,  there were at least 11 live oiled Western Grebes captured during search and collection.

A Western Grebe rests on net bottom caging awaiting cleaning of natural oil seep .

To ensure that we were dealing with natural oil seep, rather than an oil spill, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) was notified and transport was arranged to bring the birds down to Bird Rescue for evidence collection and primary care. In total, Bird Rescue received 18 oiled over the course of three days.

When working with oiled wildlife, samples are collected from each bird for chemical “fingerprinting” by the Petroleum Chemistry Lab of the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife; it was determined that the oil was in fact from a natural seep. Natural oil seep is common along the Southern California Coast and acts much like spilled oil.

Western Grebes spend the entirety of their lives in water, propelling themselves with their feet to hunt for fish. When a bird becomes oiled, it’s feather structure is compromised leaving them unable to remain waterproof, maintain internal temperature, or hunt for food. They also can sustain secondary injuries and burns as a result and will die unless rescued and the oil cleaned off by trained personnel.

When we received these birds, many of them were in poor body condition, extremely dehydrated, and heavily oiled. Medically stabilizing these birds before putting them through an extensive and stressful wash process is incredibly important. By giving the birds nutritional tube feedings and a warm environment, we were able to improve their condition quickly and wash the oil off within a few days of admittance. But that’s just the beginning…

The days after wash are spent tirelessly giving the birds access to water, assessing their waterproofing, and aiding the birds while drying any wet areas still remaining post wash. It’s a lot of work for the staff, but it’s even more work for the birds who need to preen their feathers all while living under the stress of an alien environment. These are wild animals that are affected by the stressors of human interaction, noise, and simply being out of water for several days.

After two weeks, we’re happy to report that most of the birds are already waterproof and living in one of our large pools! We will now be working on conditioning these birds for release back into the wild by improving their body condition and treating any injuries/wounds they may have acquired during the ordeal of becoming oiled.

Volunteer Mary Test helps intake nearly 20 oiled seabirds covered in natural oil seep from Ventura, CA.

Freshly washed of oil, Western Grebes are moved to the outdoor pelagic pools at the center located in San Pedro, CA.

 

March 6, 2018

Pelagic boating tours offer opportunities for sighting blue-banded Brown Pelicans

 

Bernardo Alps, Santa Monica Bay, Feb. 11, 2018


Editor’s Note: Thank you to our long time employee, Suzie Kosina, for preparing this piece. 

When we release our rehabilitated patients, we often wish them “good luck” on their way back to life in the wild.  While the superstitious might prefer “break a leg”, we know all too well the very real risk these birds face in suffering broken bones, especially in urbanized areas where they may be hit by cars, accidentally fly into glass windows or tumble onto hard pavement from a nest.  Unfortunately, many of our patients arrive to us in critical condition with fractured limbs, severe emaciation or gruesome lacerations from entanglement in fishing gear. Fortunately, we are able to treat many of these issues resulting in the successful release of hundreds of patients every year.  Each band sighting report that we receive is confirmation of the hard work we perform in the clinic to get our patients ready to confront the challenges of the world again.

Through a program with the US Geological Survey’s Bird Banding Lab, our organization bands all released birds with metal leg identification bands and for some species, we also use Blue, Red, and Black plastic leg bands.  In 2009, Brown Pelicans were selected for a special banding program using blue plastic bands with large white lettering on both sides. These bands have drastically increased the number of sightings in the wild that we receive as they are much easier to read than the tiny digits stamped on the metal bands.  As one can imagine, we are elated with every sighting report that we receive as it indicates one of our patients has successfully been migrating, foraging for food, and even breeding in Baja California, Mexico.  

While Brown Pelicans can frequently be seen from land roosting along the shore or soaring above the water, pelagic birding and whale watching tours offer great opportunities for spotting some of our previous patients further out in their natural habitats.

Roosting along rocky outcrops of the coastline or soaring above the water, pelagic birding and whale watching tours offer great opportunities for spotting some of our previous patients further out in their more natural habitats.

Credit: Byron & Joanna Chin

Over the past three years, we have received 12 reports from individuals on boating tours and 46 reports from tour guides.  Recently, on Feb 12, 2017, on a tour guided by Bernardo Alps (of American Cetacean Society – LA Chapter) and organized by the Pasadena Audubon Society, Ayla Qureshi got some fantastic photos of N09 in adult breeding plumage flying over the open ocean alongside an immature gull near Marina del Rey in Southern California.  N09 was treated at our LA Wildlife Center in 2015 when we removed three fishing hooks embedded his legs and wing; interestingly, this bird was found to have had an old but healed ulna fracture that it had recovered from! This sighting report was submitted to us through our online reporting form which can be found here.  All reports are responded to with case history information if requested.

Credit: Ayla Qureshi at Marina del Rey, CA on Feb 11, 2018

 

There are actually a few other organizations that use brightly colored plastic bands on Brown Pelicans as well.  On a recent tour this past fall on Alvaro’s Adventures, Dorian Anderson, a wildlife photographer, managed to photograph six color banded Brown Pelicans, including one red band from the chick banding program GECI in Baja, Mexico, one green band from the Refugio Spill cleanup managed by UC Davis [LINK] and one white band from another rehab center, The Wildlife Center of the North Coast in Oregon.  You can report red, white and green banded Brown Pelicans directly to the Bird Banding Lab.

Credit: Dorian Anderson at Pillar Point Harbor, CA on Sept. 14, 2017

 

As spring and summer roll around, Brown Pelicans typically start migrating north after breeding season and can commonly be found off the California, Oregon and Washington coasts in large numbers.  If you happen to catch any photos of a brown pelican roost site, such as this one captured by Byron and Joanna Chin on another of Alvaro’s tours, make sure you take a close look for those colored bands!  Hiding off to the right is H98, a former patient treated in 2011 at our SF Bay Wildlife Center for a large pouch laceration with exposed bone. These types of injuries typically require extensive surgical repair. Unfortunately, these are common injuries most often caused by fishing hooks and can be fatal without treatment.  Can you spot H98?

Credit: Byron & Joanna Chin at Pillar Point Harbor, CA on Sept. 17, 2017

 

As a general reminder, all wildlife should be viewed with as minimal disturbance as possible.  Many marine birds and mammals can present a serious hazard to humans and it is also in their best interest to be observed from a distance.  Should a bird decide to get up close and personal, as did K57 on a Sea & Sage Audubon Society pelagic birdwatching trip in 2015, do not attempt to touch the bird or feed it anything.  K57 was treated in 2012 as a juvenile for anemia, hypothermia, and emaciation – a common trio of ailments for younger Brown Pelicans on their first pass up north. Sightings like this allow us to know that our former down and out young patient has successfully become a beautiful healthy adult bird!

 

Credit: Robert McNab (photo license), off Newport Coast, CA on Jan. 10, 2015

 

A few pointers to keep in mind when looking for blue-banded Brown Pelicans:

  • Always respect the birds, their personal space, and privacy;
  • Observe using binoculars from a distance (never get closer to a bird than 10 yards);
  • Do not flush/disturb groups of roosting birds by moving directly towards them and minimize time stopped near roost locations;
  • Never chase or follow a bird trying to move away from you;
  • Reduce human-caused disturbance (loud noises, garbage, food waste, etc.)
  • Obey all laws and restricted area postings;
  • Take special precaution (extra distance, very quiet voices, etc) or avoid entirely animals performing sensitive behaviors (nesting, breeding, courtship, etc.).

Interested in taking a local whale watching or pelagic bird boating tour?  Check out the following for upcoming tours along the California coast. Also, consider checking your local Audubon chapter for hosted pelagic trips:

Shearwater Journeys (Monterey Bay, Half Moon Bay and Farallon Islands – California)

Alvaro’s Adventures, led by Alvaro Jaramillo, Avian Biologist with SF Bay Bird Observatory (Monterey Bay, Half Moon Bay, Bodega Bay, Farallon Islands – California and International)

San Diego Pelagics (San Diego area – California)

Catalina Explorer (Southern Channel Islands – California)

Sea and Sage Audubon Society (Dana Point – California)

Oceanic Society, whale watching focused (Half Moon Bay, Farallon Islands, SF Bay – California)

 

Please report injured birds to one of our Wildlife Centers.

March 6, 2018

Michelle Bellizzi: Bird Rescue Staff since 2000

Editor’s Note: The work we do at Bird Rescue wouldn’t be possible without our amazing team of staff, volunteers, and board members! Read below to meet one of our stellar team members!

Ever wondered who’s responsible for deploying the troops when a spill arises? That would be our intrepid Response Services Team! Today’s Staff Spotlight features one of those team members, Michelle Bellizzi! Michelle is one of the primary points of contact in the event of an oil spill, both locally and internationally, and is the right hand of our Response Services Director, Barbara Callahan. She has been an integral part of the Bird Rescue team since 2000, and we are grateful to have her on board! Like any good responder, Michelle not only has a skill for multitasking and staying calm under pressure but in bringing levity and enthusiasm to any situation.

Michelle first started at Bird Rescue after a friend saw a posting on Craigslist about volunteering. Though she was employed in another field at the time, the self-proclaimed “non-volunteer type of person,” decided she would give it a shot. When she showed up to her first-day volunteering, the wildlife center was full to the brim with sick pelicans, which included the poop and vomit that accompanies them. As a newbie to the bird rehabilitation world, she was a little more than put off by smell and the mess that surrounded her. She wasn’t sure she would return –  that is until she got up close and personal with her first pelican. Michelle describes standing 5 feet away from the large and majestic bird, and at that moment she said, her heart melted, and she was hooked.

One day a weekend turned into two days a weekend, which turned into evenings after work, and eventually, Michelle found herself leaving her old career behind, and stepping happily into her new home. Starting as a technician, she has worn many hats over the years, including Center Manager and Volunteer Coordinator. While she misses the action of being in the clinic, Michelle appreciates her current role because of its ability to allow her to make an impact on a large number of birds at once.

When not at Bird Rescue, Michelle can be found snuggling with her parrot Gertie, spending time with her longtime partner Blake, or enjoying the many delights of the Bay Area. She loves California and enjoys exploring all of the beauty that it has to offer.

Thank you, Michelle, for all that you do! We are lucky to have such a funny, hardworking, and knowledgeable character on our team!