Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Archive for May 2020

May 18, 2020

Patient of the Week: Western Snowy Plover

Using a custom anesthesiology and oxygen rig, the Western Snowy Plover with a wing fracture had its wing pinned. Photo: Dr. Rebecca Duerr – International Bird Rescue

The Tiny Surgery Patient

On May 4, International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center was contacted by biologists about an injured adult male Western Snowy Plover they had captured at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve in Union City, CA. On arrival, radiographs revealed the bird had suffered a bad wing fracture, with its humerus bone in 3 pieces, plus it had a lacerated patagium (the web of skin that connects the shoulder to the wrist on the wing). Humerus fractures generally require surgical pinning if a wild bird is to have any hope of ever being able to fly again.

Despite not the best prognosis for this type of fracture healing well in such a tiny bird, not to mention their minuscule size (only 6 inches in length) providing a surgical challenge, our team decided to give fixing this bird a go. Due to the status of Western Snowy Plovers as Species of Special Concern within California, and Threatened status on the Endangered Species list, we had extra incentive to try to get this bird fixed up and back out into the wild.

Surgical repair was nerve-wracking but this feisty little bird did great through anesthesia and Dr. Rebecca Duerr, Bird Rescue’s staff veterinarian, was able to get the three pieces of bone correctly positioned on the pin after repairing the wing wound. Due to the size of the bone and delicate placement of the pin near the elbow, she decided to not attempt to place cross pins, which are often done in cases like this in larger birds to create an external fixator that allows the wing to be unrestrained while it heals. Instead, she opted to simply tape the wing to the body to provide the extra stability needed for the bone to start to heal.

We are happy to report that 18 days in, this tiny patient is doing well, being a good patient running around his enclosure and eating on his own. The pin will be removed next week, and physical therapy will begin in earnest. Since the bird has been healing so well so far, we are guardedly optimistic about his prognosis for being able to fly again.

About Snowy Plovers

Along the San Francisco Bay there are about 200 nesting Western Snowy Plovers, including about 125 at Eden Eden Landing Ecological Reserve. The Pacific coast breeding population extends from the state of Washington, to Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Male Snowy Plovers are good fathers. Though their offspring are able to feed themselves, the fathers watch over their chicks and will valiantly chase off predators or gather chicks underwing to shield them from weather or other risks.

These birds build their nests on sandy beaches, and their nesting areas are easily disturbed by hikers and beach goers. You can help protect this species by being extra cautious when you visit the beach or wetlands – give birds plenty of space and pay attention to signage that indicates nesting birds may be nearby. You can also help spread the word and educate others about Snowy Plovers – little birds like these might be hard to spot if you don’t know to look for them!

X-rays revealed the plover had suffered a bad wing fracture.

In surgery a pin was carefully placed to help the fractured wing to heal.

Western Snowy Plover in care at our Northern California wildlife center. Photo: International Bird Rescue

 

May 6, 2020

In The Time Of COVID-19: Alaska Oil Spill Response

Aerial photo of the Valdez Marine Terminal, Alaska. You can see the oil sheen and boom deployment in Prince William Sound. Photo credit: Alyeska Pipeline

Sunday, April 12th was just like any other “normal” day adjusting to our new “normal” of “flattening the curve” during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the preceding weeks, states on the west coast of the United States had instituted #StayHome policies to slow the transmission of the deadly novel virus spreading across the globe since late 2019.

On that evening at 6:15 pm, International Bird Rescue received a call from our long-time client, Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, alerting us to a small oil spill incident in Valdez, Alaska. Immediately, Alyeska activated Barbara Callahan, Bird Rescue’s Response Director, to provide expertise in this developing situation.

Callahan learned that the incident involved a small leak from a sump pump at the Valdez Marine Terminal – on land approximately 650 feet from the shore of Prince William Sound. The mere mention of a spill in this area, immediately brings up terrifying thoughts in the waters made famous by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster. And while the amount of this oiling was small, the oil seeped into the topsoil and leached into the harbor, where it created a large area of sheen. Worse, the area where the sheen was contained within boom sets was adjacent to a pier where one of the largest and most successful breeding populations of Black-legged Kittiwakes nest annually. There was also concern for the myriad of other fish, seabirds, waterfowl, and marine mammals that were making their annual return to the area for feeding and breeding. To add to the worry, the spill site was very close to a commercial salmon fishery where fry (small juvenile salmon) were scheduled for release within two weeks of this oil spill. There were significant concerns that the resulting sudden influx of prey species to the area would bring in additional animals foraging.

If this event had happened without the existence of a pandemic, the response tactics would be clear: Bird Rescue would deploy one or two field teams to Valdez to capture and stabilize any oil-affected birds. In addition, there would be a team assigned to activate the Alaska Wildlife Response Center (AWRC) in Anchorage. This turn-key standby center is always prepared to offer full rehabilitation of oiled wildlife.

Because of COVID-19 travel and quarantine restrictions, personnel from outside of Valdez were required to go through a 14-day quarantine within the state. In order to quickly initiate wildlife operations in Valdez, Alyeska activated several “Vessels of Opportunity” (“VOO’s”) who are kept on contract and who are pre-trained annually by Alyeska and Bird Rescue to be wildlife observers and capture crews. In addition, a small team of marine mammal experts were brought in from Anchorage and a local veterinarian were enlisted to perform wildlife stabilization.

Two Bird Rescue team members, Julie Skoglund and Liz Montenegro, were deployed to Anchorage to prepare the AWRC, and arrived on April 20th. As with every other part of this response, even this fairly direct deployment required an intensive contact history and a three-day quarantine without leaving their hotel rooms before the team was able to get to work at the AWRC. Once released from their quarantine, they quickly got to work and not only prepared for potential patients, but also performed a deep-clean on the center’s upstairs storage area, creating new storage space and cleaning out out-of-date or unnecessary equipment and supplies.

We are relieved to report that only three animals were oiled during this event, two were deceased prior to collection and one bird was euthanized. While we are never happy to see any oiled animals, this event had the potential to impact thousands more animals, and we breathed a sigh of relief as the spill area became smaller and smaller each day, and the oiled shoreline has been gradually restored. While spill cleanup operations will continue until the environment is restored, as of May 5, our Anchorage team has been demobilized and returned to their homes to self-quarantine for 14 days. Response Director Barbara Callahan and Bird Rescue will continue to be a part of the Spill Response management team providing our best advice and recommendations until cleanup operations are complete.