Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

December 20, 2019

Oldest Known King Eider Found 23 Years After Oil Spill Care

Male King Eiders are super colorful sea ducks commonly found in Arctic waters. CC photo by Ron Knight

A new bird banding report shows something truly remarkable: the oldest known King Eider – a species of sea duck – was a 24-year-old oil spill survivor cared for by International Bird Rescue. This finding proves once again that rehabilitated, formerly-oiled birds can survive many years after treatment and release back to the wild.

The latest discovery involves a male King Eider that was oiled as an adult during an oil spill in Alaska in 1996. The recovered bird survived 23 years after oiling and release, and according to federal banding information, this may well be the oldest known King Eider.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Bird Banding Lab, which administers the scientific banding or ringing of wild birds in the U.S., the previously oldest recorded King Eider was an unoiled female that was at least 22 years 1 month old when she was recaptured and re-released during banding operations in Nunavut, Canada.

In 1996 rescued King Eiders were cleaned of oil after being flown to Anchorage from the Pribilof Islands. Photo © International Bird Rescue

This important news underscores what Bird Rescue has been advocating from its beginnings: oiled birds can and DO survive to live normal lives when rehabilitated after oiling, with appropriate resources and skilled staff. This is especially true when wildlife experts follow the protocols that have been refined over our nearly 50-year history.

Watch the video: Every Release Matters

“Bird Rescue has developed and remains at the forefront of the State of the Science for oiled wildlife treatment and rehabilitation,’ said Catherine Berg, NOAA Scientific Support Coordinator for Alaska. Berg was one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Alaska Oil Spill Response Coordinators. (Ron Britton was also worked as the National USFWS Oil Spill Coordinator and managed the Citrus spill along with Pamela Bergmann at the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Environmental Policy & Compliance, and Claudia Slater of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.)

“Seeing this kind of evidence of rehabilitated bird survival is truly a tribute to their dedication to the advancement of the science and to improving the care of injured birds.” Berg added.

The long-lived eider is also a testament to both Bird Rescue’s and the State of Alaska’s commitment to the successful concept of having a centralized response center to care for affected wildlife, rather than attempting the care and cleaning of animals in a remote, inaccessible location. All the birds from this spill were transported from a remote island for care in a centralized facility run by Bird Rescue in Anchorage.

The long-lived King Eider carried the Federal Band #1347-54951.

The reported King Eider was originally oiled during the M/V Citrus Oil Spill that began in mid-February 1996 in Alaska’s Pribilof Islands around St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea, approximately 300 miles from the nearest mainland, and 750 miles from Anchorage. One hundred eighty-six birds, mainly eiders, were rescued near St. Paul and transported by U.S. Coast Guard C-130 aircraft to Bird Rescue’s Anchorage emergency response center. After medical stabilization, washing, and rehabilitation, the cleaned seabirds were again transported (a four hour flight) back to St. Paul Island, where their release was celebrated by the community and with the participation of schoolchildren.

Bird Rescue is proud of its work and the body of knowledge regarding the care of oiled wildlife that it has cultivated and shared since its inception in 1971. Data such as band returns on these species provide critical feedback to our rehabilitation processes, and clearly we are on the right track.

The deceased eider (Federal Band #1347-54951) was taken near English Bay on St. Paul Island earlier this year. The metal band number was reported to the USGS Bird Banding Lab and they shared the information with Bird Rescue.

Male King Eiders are known for their very ornate and distinctive plumage. The male’s black and white feathers are accented by a reddish orange bill, bluish crown and greenish cheek. They are found in Arctic waters.

This is the fourth King Eider from the 1996 spill that has been reported through the Bird Banding Lab.

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4 Responses to “Oldest Known King Eider Found 23 Years After Oil Spill Care”

  1. Ron Britton Says:

    Good article but I need to clarify one point. I was the USFWS Alaska Oil Spill Response Coordinator for the Citrus spill on the Pribilofs. I took a position as the National USFWS Oil Spill Coordinator in October of 1996 but managed the Citrus spill along with Pamela Bergmann DOI OEPC and Claudia Slater ADFG. Catherine was the next to fill the Alaska position for USFWS. Thanks much, Ron

  2. Russ Curtis Says:

    Thank you Ron for correcting the record!

  3. Vicki Brosam Says:

    It is so wonderful that this Eider was saved and has survived. The International Bird Rescue is truly amazing.

  4. Lois Case Says:

    This is amazing. Hopefully for the last 23 years he has been busy making more little eiders! Thank you for your amazing work International Bird Rescue!

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