Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue


February 7, 2018

Bird of the Month: Diving Ducks

Canvasback – Photo by Cheryl Reynolds

February is Diving Duck Month here at Bird Rescue, and to celebrate this fun month we wanted to start out by talking about what a diving duck actually is. While all species of duck are in the same family (Anatidae) within that family ducks can be separated out into three main groups; diving ducks, dabbling ducks, and sea ducks/mergansers. Today, we will talk about diving ducks!

Diving ducks get their name from the way that they forage for food – diving underwater! In order to find the mollusks, plants, insects, and fish that they feed on, these athletic little ducks plunge themselves underwater in search of the food that they eat. According to the University of Florida, diving ducks have large webbed feet (which act as paddles) and smaller wings which they press up against their body, enabling them to dive and swim underwater with ease. While their smaller wings and larger feet may help with diving, they aren’t necessarily the best for taking flight, which is why you sometimes see ducks running across the water before taking off.

Most species of diving duck are native to North America, and we commonly see many species from the group at our clinic. Canvasbacks, Ruddy Ducks, Common Goldeneyes, Greater and Lesser Scaups, Surf Scoters, and Buffleheads are all birds that we regularly see throughout the winter months. While most of these birds do not breed in California, they often pass through during winter migration.

While we enjoy celebrating the many unique traits of the diving ducks, their conservation status is a less jovial tale. According to Ducks Unlimited, this extraordinary group of birds has suffered from the deteriorating water quality throughout North America. Increased levels of contaminants in water sources, loss of aquatic vegetation (food) due to erosion, and breeding ground loss due to landfills are just a few of the challenges that these ducks face.

Though conservation may be a concern for these birds, together we can work together in doing our part to make decisions that look out for the water systems and habitats that support them. Join us in celebrating this wonderful group of ducks throughout the month of February, and stay tuned for factoids, photos, and conservation information about this beloved group. For daily updates follow us on Facebook!

January 31, 2018

Photographers in Focus: Patricia Ware

Elegant Tern emerges from the water with two fish in its mouth at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, CA.

Our photographer of note this time around is Patricia Ware from Manhattan Beach, CA. Patricia captures striking bird life images in and around Southern California. In her interview that follows, she shares some great tips on using her photographic equipment to the highest degree and reminds us that even after arising early to find these beautiful photos, post-production and thoughtful backup plans keep her sanity intact.

Photo of Mandarin Duck by Patricia Ware

Mandarin Duck photographed at the Los Angeles Arboretum, California.

Question: Your work is striking. How did you manage to capture that image of the Elegant Tern?

Answer: Thank you, I am so pleased you enjoy my work.

When the Terns are diving for fish, I try to capture them when they emerge from the water. To get sharp shots of fast-moving birds like Terns, you need to first put the correct settings in your camera. When I took this shot, I was using a Canon 1D mark iv, so I will describe the settings I use for my Canon cameras; however, similar settings are found for other camera models.

• Autofocus: Use AI Servo Autofocus. The AI stands for Artificial Intelligence. This algorithm determines the speed and the direction of fast-moving subjects when their focusing distance keeps changing. AI Servo Autofocus allows me to better track fast flying birds.

• Drive Mode: Set it to high-speed continuous shooting. On my Canon 1D mark iv, I was able to get 10 shots per second. When the action is at its greatest, clicking 10 shots per second gives me more opportunities to capture the action at its peak.

• Autofocus Point: Use the center autofocus for birds in flight. If I am shooting against a varied background such as trees or bushes, I will use the center autofocus point and aim for the center of the bird. If I know I will be shooting against a plain background such as a blue sky, I will use the center autofocus point plus surrounding AF point expansion.

• AI Servo Tracking Sensitivity: Set to SLOW. Setting the tracking sensitivity to slow allows me to refocus on the bird in flight more quickly when the camera locks its focus on the background rather than on the bird.

The Tern photo was taken from the bridge in the early morning at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, CA. I waited until I saw a Tern dive and aimed as it surfaced. I didn’t realize it had two fish in its mouth until I uploaded my photos to my computer. Stopping a moment in time allows you to see even more than you did when you took the shot.

Photo of Black-necked Stilt by Patricia Ware

Black-necked Stilt walks along wetlands in Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, Playa del Rey, California.

Q: How did you get into wildlife photography?

A: In 2008, I purchased a Canon 40D which came with a 28-135mm zoom lens. My husband and I were rowing in the Back Bay in Newport Beach, California when I spotted an Osprey in the distance. My husband said I could zoom in on the bird to make it larger and he proceeded to show me how. I was blown away that I could make something so small and far away appear close and large in camera. At that moment I was hooked.

Perusing the internet to learn more about birds and Ospreys in particular, I stumbled across one of the most widely recognized bird photographers, Artie Morris. I read his blog and purchased one of his guides to bird photography. I loved his work and wanted to emulate him.

But first I needed to learn how to use my newly purchased camera. So I enrolled in a UCLA extension course on beginning photography and Photoshop. It was exactly what I needed. The class gave weekly assignments to improve our skills. And over the next three months I learned the basics of photography and Photoshop.

I am still learning. I often watch online videos and read blogs about photography and Photoshop in order to improve my skills.

Photo of Snowy Egrets by Patricia Ware

Snowy Egret chaseing off another along the shoreline at Playa del Rey, California

Q: What are some of the challenges you face in your bird photography?

A: Getting up early (5:00 am) and driving the freeways are my biggest challenges. You need to be where the birds are and the morning light is wonderful.

I often wear black so I can hide in the shadows and then I stay in place until the birds to come to me. I love being in nature, so waiting for the birds is a joy rather than a challenge. It gives me time to enjoy the beauty surrounding me: the wonderful views of nature, the smell of the wet grasses, the birds singing in the trees or the quiet stillness.

Photo of young Egyptian Geese by Patricia Ware

Q: What camera system do you prefer? Favorite lens for wildlife photography?

A: I love taking shots of birds in flight, so I recently upgraded to a Canon’s 1DX ii. It’s great for action with its fast frame rate of 14 FPS with full tracking autofocus. The autofocus is excellent even with an extender. Additionally, I am able to take shots with a high ISO and still get wonderful image quality

When I use a tripod, my favorite lens is my 600mm. But more often I am hand-holding, and my lens of choice is a Canon 400 DO ii. Its autofocus is fast and it’s sharp with both the Canon 1.4X III and 2x III EF extenders. With one of these extenders, I have either a 560mm f/5.6 or an 800mm f/8 reach.

Because it is relatively light, I can walk for over a mile with the 400 DO ii. And because of its compact size I can take it out in our 22’ dory when we go to the Back Bay in Newport Beach, CA. Additionally, I can fit it in a carry-on when I take a flight so it makes a wonderful travel lens too.

Photo of a Allen’s Hummingbird by Patricia Ware

Male Allen’s Hummingbird photo capture in Ware’s backyard.

Q: Do you have any tips or suggestions for photographers to edit and catalog their work?

A: Good photographs, that’s what it’s all about. Once I take them, I want to keep only the best and get rid of the rest. So I need to judge: Is the subject too small in the frame? Is it out of focus? Are the whites blown out and is there enough detail in the shadows? These are a few of the things that I evaluate.

However, even if a shot is technically flawless, I may not choose to keep it if it doesn’t speak to me. It needs to say, “This is a perfect moment in time.” Like when the Tern emerges from the water with two fish in its beak or when this juvenile Peregrine lands in the ice plant after one of his initial flights.

Or my photo needs to tell me a story such as this one showing shows how one Snowy Egret aggressively chases off another from its territory.

Or the photo needs to evoke a feeling or an emotion. This shot elicited confidence showing a Black-necked Stilt holding her head high while taking a big stride.

Whatever the criterion I use to make these judgments, I need to be able to preview the image at 100%. And I need to do this quickly with little wait time so I can move on to the next shot. Even though I can preview my images in Lightroom, it’s WAY too slow. I need something much faster, and Photo Mechanic from Camera Bits meets that need. Photo Mechanic is a super-fast image browser that speeds up my workflow. This software saves me serious time in my first-pass review to cull for rejected photos. It loads quickly so I can immediately see the photo in high resolution. I can check whether the eye is in perfect focus or use any other criterion to decide if the shot is worth keeping.

Not only must I decide which photos to keep, but I also need to decide where to store my photos. When I started out taking photos, I would store them on external hard drives. This was an easy solution that worked quite well until one day one when one of my hard drives failed. I had a sickening realization that I had messed up. I tried everything to get it back. I even took it to a person specializing in hard drive recovery and he was unsuccessful. Fortunately, I was able to recover my photos by attaching the hard drive to a different computer, but I learned my lesson. I now store my photos in multiple places.

I first copy my camera memory card a 2 TB portable external hard drive. I do my first pass at selecting and then make a second copy of the keepers to a 16 TB RAID external hard drive. Once the smaller hard drive is full, I move it into a file cabinet in our detached garage and replace it with a new hard drive.

Additionally, I pay for online backup using Backblaze, which automatically backups all my files on one computer as well as my portable and my RAID external hard drives. Presently, I have over 8 terabytes in their cloud.

Some people are turned off by the initial predicted upload time by Backblaze. However, it took me much less time. Of course, I have everything set for speed: I leave my computer on day and night, I have FiOS, which has blazing fast upload speeds, and in the Backblaze settings, I turn off automatic throttle and manually set it to use the most Internet bandwidth available. Backblaze is simple to use and it keeps my folder structure the same as it is on my computer. In fact, I’ve used it for several years now and during this time, my computer crashed. I easily restored my files on my new computer.

Along with Backblaze, I upload my photos to the Amazon Cloud, whose price is included with my prime membership. This gives me added security, but for me, it’s not as easy to retrieve photos as Backblaze. I also store and organize my high-resolution jpegs on Flickr. However, I primarily use Flickr for its social network. On Flickr I can view, interact, and learn in a huge community of professional and amateur photographers. And finally, my last storage site is on Zenfolio, which is my personal website to showcase my photos.

To some, these multiple places to store my photos may seem like overkill, but I certainly have peace of mind.

Photo of Clark's Grebe swims carrying chick on its back by Patricia Ware

Clark’s Grebe swims carrying chick on its back.

Q: Why birds?

A: Birds are beautiful animals and they are everywhere. When my son was in third grade, he was assigned to do a report on local birds. So I took him to a local pond to observe the birds. The variety of birds there opened my eyes. I had never really looked before. As we researched the birds we saw, my son and I learned so much about the wildlife in our area. I then put up a feeder in my yard where I could make even closer observations and eventually take photographs.

Photo of Elegant Tern in midair ballet by Patricia Ware

Elegant Tern twists and shakes water from his body at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, California.

Q: Who are some of your favorite wildlife photographers?

A: My favorite wildlife photographers are among the contacts on Flickr I have made on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/): Sindri Skúlason, Philip Dunn, Eric Gofreed, Salah Baazizi, Gerda and Willie van Schalkwyk. I can follow their work on a daily basis and spend time identifying what I like about their shots. I can then try to imitate what I like about their work and because we comment on each other’s work and know each other, I can email them if I need to learn more.

Q: How has working in nature enhanced your life?

A: Pure joy is being in the quiet of nature and connecting with it. I love nature. Photographing nature, especially animals in the wild, is my way of protecting our planet and sharing its beauty.

Photo of Reddish Egret by Patricia Ware

Reddish Egret appears to be walking on water at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Beach, California.

All photos © Patricia Ware


December 26, 2017

Year in Review: 2017

Common Murre chick swimming with adult murre – Photo by Cheryl Reynolds

2017 has been a year of change and progress at Bird Rescue. From new hires to new opportunities, this past year has presented us with countless possibilities to grow and expand. As always, we are grateful for the support we received throughout 2017. All of the work we have done this past year would not have been possible without the generous support of all of you. As a 501(c)(3), Bird Rescue runs off of volunteer hours and donated resources. When we say that the work we do wouldn’t be possible without your help, we truly mean it. As 2017 comes to an end, we wanted to take a moment to show you all the ways that you have helped make Bird Rescue as strong as ever:

Heavily oiled Brown Pelican being washed. Photo by Cheryl Reynolds

  • YOU provided high-quality wildlife rehabilitation care for more than 3,500 wild birds.

  • YOU researched foot and body wounds often seen in grebes.

  • YOU paid for innovative surgeries that improve the state of care for injured seabirds.

  • YOU funded an increasing number of Virginia Rails – small skulking marsh birds that we have rarely seen with such frequency.

  • YOU supported us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – a community 95,000 strong!

  • YOU gave us the chance to improve our Aging and Sexing skills for released birds through an expert training, allowing us to provide better data for science.

  • YOU supported over $75,000 in food costs for our patients.

  • YOU helped us to evacuate during the Atlas Fire in Northern California

This list highlights just a fraction of the ways that you all have helped make Bird Rescue so successful this year. As always, we are filled with gratitude for your support, and look forward to jumping into 2018 with a whole new set of goals! Stay tuned for future updates on the projects we have planned for the year to come!


September 27, 2017

Volunteer Spotlight: Susan “Mac” McCarthy

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

Susan McCarthy – Volunteer Since 1971

A writer and a volunteer, Susan (or Mac as we’ll call her) has been on the front lines with Bird Rescue since 1971, getting her start at the Standard Oil spill incident that prompted the very formation of our organization! From oil spills to her work as a writer, Mac’s commitment to animal welfare has been an inspiration to us over the years.

A long-time Bay Area resident, Mac has always had a soft spot for avian wildlife. Growing up in a home that valued the welfare of all animals (including a mother who used to drive her to our center so she could volunteer!) it’s no wonder that Mac has dedicated her life to studying and writing about animal behavior.

As a professional writer, Mac’s work can be seen in her non-fiction books When Elephants Weep (which she co-authored with Jeff Masson) and Becoming a Tiger. In addition to her work in animal behavior, Mac also runs a blog with her colleague Marjorie Ingall, Sorry Watch, which analyzes apologies, both public and private.

We are so grateful that Mac has chosen to spend her time helping our efforts over the years, and are delighted to get to spend time with such an interesting and dedicated woman!

Read Mac’s account of bird rescue at the 1971 San Francisco Bay oil spill: http://www.outsidelands.org/1971_oil_spill.php

July 15, 2017

Photo of the Week: Baby Green Herons

Just when we thought baby season was starting to slow down, these three orphaned Green Heron chicks came into care this week because of human kindness. After the mother heron was struck by a car near Glendale, CA, a Good Samaritan scooped up the brood and delivered them to our Los Angeles wildlife center.

The siblings are self-feeding, which is a sign they are doing well in care. Over the course of 25 days, they will fledge (learn to fly) and they will be released to the wild. Check out this video of this energetic threesome.

To spot a Green Heron in the wild, visit a coastal or inland wetland and carefully scan the banks looking for a small, hunchbacked bird with a long, straight bill. They are quite shy and will fly away if approached too closely. One fascinating fact: Green Herons are a species that are known to use tools. During feeding, they are known to drop small items on the water’s surface to entice small fish, making them true fisher-birds! You can see this behavior on YouTube.

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Photo by staffer Kylie Clatterbuck


June 12, 2017

Photo of the Week: Baby Birds…not quite yet!

Our two wildlife centers are inundated with baby birds, but we also have a large number of not-yet-hatchlings!

This week’s photo shows the egg incubator at our San Francisco Bay-Delta wildlife center with a variety of eggs in it. The top row has a number of Western Gull eggs from the ongoing Bay Bridge demolition project, and the bottom row has California Quail eggs. Not shown are two very special eggs — from an American Bittern!

All of these eggs are from abandoned or disturbed nests. Fortunately, we have experience with all three species of hatchling, so we’re ready for any chicks that come along.

To the right is a Western Gull chick from last season, so you can see why we’re eagerly awaiting their hatching.

Photos by Jennifer Linader and Cheryl Reynolds


June 6, 2017

Photo of the Week: Baby Grebe

This week we have a nice surprise in the fuzzy silver face of a young diving bird called a grebe. While we are not yet sure if this chick is a Western Grebe or Clark’s Grebe since the two species look quite alike at this age, we are quite sure he is adorable!

This “grebe-ling” was rescued in Clearlake, CA, and is now in care at our San Francisco Bay-Delta wildlife center. While we care for many adult grebes that are sick or injured, we rarely see them at this tender age.

Mother grebes lay 2-4 eggs. The hatching of chicks is not synchronized and the last egg may be abandoned in nest. The young grebe-lings will hitch a ride on a parent’s back as they head out on the water. Baby grebes have a red dot on their forehead that quite amazingly turns darker when the bird is hungry. Aren’t birds incredible?! Learn more: http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/western-grebe

In the meantime, click on the video below or go here to see this beautiful young aquatic bird.

Photo and video by Cheryl Reynolds


May 28, 2017

Baby American Coot Helping Feed Younger Coot

After 46 years, it sometimes feels like we have seen it all… but our patients can still bring surprises! American Coot chicks are perhaps some of the oddest babies we get at Bird Rescue. They start out with fire-engine red and yellow head feathers and grow into a relatively drab, dark gray with black heads and white beaks.

Hungry American Coot chick.

These American Coot chicks came in at different times, as can be seen by their size difference. With a little luck, we are able to match orphans of the same species. None of this is unusual.

What is unusual is that whenever we add food to their enclosure, the larger baby coot takes it upon itself to FEED the younger one! Click the video above to see an adorable video clip.

Coots are in the shorebird family Rallidae, along with Gallinules and Rails, and develop into plump chicken-like birds that spend most of their lives on the water. They have remarkable greenish legs and large feet. Learn more: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Coot/id

Photos by Cheryl Reynolds



May 20, 2017

Photo of the Week: Caspian Tern With Fishhook In Wing

Check out this beautiful Caspian Tern, photographed by Alex Viduetsky from the oceanic jetty in Playa Del Rey, California.

Now look closer and you’ll see what Alex also saw: “Unexpectedly, a Caspian Tern with a fishhook in its right wing flew above my head. It made me think how many birds are getting hooked and how many of them are capable of breaking free?”

The answer is that we see many, many birds that have been hooked or entangled, and next to none of them are capable of unhooking themselves. Many hooks are ingested.

Fishing line and fish hooks are the single most frequent problem we treat at Bird Rescue. Please help by picking up fishing debris wherever you see it!


April 18, 2017

Teaming Up with Oakland Zoo, and Golden Gate Audubon to Save Wild Baby Herons in Downtown Oakland

True to its roots: Black-crowned Night-Heron sports a leg bandage wrap in the Oakland As baseball colors. Photo: Isabel Luevano-International Bird Rescue

For the second consecutive year, a community partnership among like-minded wildlife organizations have teamed up to help save fledgling Black-Crowned Night Herons and Snowy Egrets that have fallen from their tree nests onto the busy streets of Downtown Oakland.

Working together, International Bird Rescue (Bird Rescue), Oakland Zoo, and the Golden Gate Audubon Society (GGAS), will make sure these young birds get the best care possible.

“Urban nesters like Black-crowned Night-Herons are in trouble ” said JD Bergeron, Executive Director of International Bird Rescue. “Their traditional nesting sites are now surrounded by busy streets and hard concrete, as well as people and cars.”

“At Bird Rescue, we have developed a specialty in treating injured baby herons, but we rely heavily on members of the public, and partnerships like the one with Golden Gate Audubon and Oakland Zoo, to help find birds in peril and to transport them to our center. We have treated more than 800 baby herons and egrets [from Oakland and the greater Bay-Delta area] in just one season!,” added Bergeron.

Donate to help Egrets and Herons

About 130 nests have been identified – making Oakland the largest rookery, or nesting colony, of Black-crowned Night-Herons in the Bay Area. So far six young birds have been rescued in the spring 2017 nesting season.

Thanks to trained volunteers from Golden Gate Audubon, the streets in the vicinity of the rookery nests are checked daily for fallen and injured birds. Oakland Zoo staff also check the rookery each morning.

When fallen birds are found, Oakland Zoo staff retrieve birds from its reported location, provide intermediary treatment, if necessary, and then transport the bird to International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay center for long-term care. Having the Zoo’s experienced animal handlers providing as on-call rescue dispatch is a crucial component of this partnership.

“We are thrilled to once again be part of this team effort to save these beautiful baby herons. The opportunity to take ‘Action for Wildlife,’ is important to us, around the world and right here in our city of Oakland,” said Amy Gotliffe, Conservation Director at Oakland Zoo.

Baby Black-crowned Night-Herons from the downtown Oakland, CA rookery in care at Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay Center. Photo: Isabel Luevano-International Bird Rescue

Once the birds are delivered to our center in Fairfield, a world-leading wild aquatic bird rehabilitative care organization, the care provided will help them develop the full range of skills needed for survival, such as self-feeding and flight. Like last year, the rehabilitated birds will be released into safe and appropriate local habitat, including Oakland’s Bay shoreline. In August 2016 nearly two dozen Oakland birds were successfully released.

This year Bird Rescue is attaching red colored leg bands to all the rehabilitated Oakland herons so that the young herons can be returned to their native Oakland when they are full-grown. The team is also using bandages (“vet wrap”) in green and gold – Oakland A’s baseball team colors.

In addition to monitoring the Oakland heron colony for fallen and injured birds, GGAS has been putting up educational posters to inform Oakland residents about the herons. A dozen GGAS volunteers have been trained to monitor the colony closely and report birds in trouble.

“Last year we learned how effective partnerships can be in protecting urban wildlife,” said Cindy Margulis, Executive Director of Golden Gate Audubon Society. “We’re so pleased that these three organizations are cooperating again to save the lives of young birds hatched in a less-than-ideal location.”

The dramatic-looking Night-Herons are longtime residents of Oakland and can frequently be seen foraging for fish, insects, and other food around Lake Merritt and on the estuary shoreline. They are so distinctive and beloved that third graders at Oakland’s Park Day School have launched a change.org petition to make them the official bird of Oakland.

In addition to Golden Gate Audubon, Oakland Zoo, and Bird Rescue, local wildlife organizations WildCare of Marin County and Lindsay Wildlife Experience of Contra Costa County are also assisting with heron rescue this year.


April 11, 2017

Don’t Make April the Cruelest Month: Please Trim Trees in the Fall

Released Snowy Egret A69 nesting with chicks at 9th Street Rookery in Santa Rosa, CA. Photo by Susan and Neil Silverman Photography.

April is Baby Dinosaur Month at Bird Rescue! As we celebrate the sometimes-awkward beauty of young egrets and herons, we would also like to make a plea for responsible tree trimming. Bird nests can be hard to spot–from the bird’s perspective, that’s the intention! So please, please do not even think about trimming trees during nesting season. Schedule your trees to be trimmed starting in the fall from September to January and still check thoroughly for occupied nests. The Golden Gate Audubon Society has a helpful page to help guide you here.

Black-crowned Night-Herons in care. Photo: Cheryl Reynolds-International Bird Rescue.

Back in 2014, a federal agency in downtown Oakland contracted with a local tree trimmer to trim ficus trees that were serving as the home of a bustling urban rookery. The results were a horrifying and a number of nesting Black-crowned Night-Herons were killed and injured in the tree trimming. Bird Rescue cared for the ones that were saved from incident. Since that time, however, our friends at Golden Gate Audubon, the Oakland Zoo, and a group of superb volunteers have combined efforts to monitor this rookery, deal with fallen and injured babies, transport them to Bird Rescue for care, and releasing them in public ceremonies to draw more attention to these birds.

Just last year we cared for more than 800 young herons and egrets. Many of them arrived from local rookeries in Santa Rosa, Oakland, Fairfield , and Long Beach. These pre-historic looking water birds take a lot of care and we rely on the generosity of people just like you to help get them back to the wild. Please help by adopting one of these “baby dinosaurs”!

In the meantime, please consider supporting our important work with wildlife. Adopt-a-Heron-Egret or donate. Thanks!


April 8, 2017

Intern Helps Make Sense of Re-encounter Data From Previously Released Birds

Research intern Andrew Zhu’s poster shows a few intriguing cases of oiled birds’ post-release success. Download research roster: Analysis of Individual Oiled Bird Re-encounter Data 2002-2015 (PDF)

Thanks to a generous grant from the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation (HCBF), International Bird Rescue (Bird Rescue) offers academic internships that provide learning opportunities for Southern California students and a more detailed research findings of wildlife rescue for the scientific community.

Andrew was honored with a 2017 Taking the Pulse of the Planet Award, presented by NOAA.

One recent intern was Andrew Zhu, a Palos Verdes Peninsula High School junior, who began his academic internship at Bird Rescue during his summer break in June 2016. For his intern research project, Andrew chose to analyze re-encounter data on previously oiled, washed, and released birds, all of which had been outfitted with a metal federal band at the time of their release. The re-encounter data consists of reports from members of the public who have found and reported a banded bird, dead or sometimes even alive. Andrew compiled information from these band reports and the corresponding patient paperwork from each bird’s stay at Bird Rescue. Although his dataset was fairly small, there were some pretty interesting findings. Check out Andrew’s poster to see the intriguing cases he uncovered!

Recently, Andrew submitted his research poster to the Palos Verdes Peninsula Science and Engineering Fair, held on March 14, 2017. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded him the 2017 Taking the Pulse of the Planet Award.

“My experience at Bird Rescue is one that I will always remember. During my time here, I probably learned more information than I would have in 300 hours of school,” says Andrew Zhu.

“Not only was I greeted by warm and passionate staff members every day, but I also learned a great deal about the detrimental effects of oil spills on aquatic wildlife, a bird’s anatomy, and the formal research process. Perhaps some of the most memorable moments were watching Dr. Becky perform surgery on a Great Blue Heron who was shot twice and a Western Gull who had parasitic worms in its eyes,” added Zhu.

About the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation

The HCBF offers community grants to organizations in San Pedro and Wilmington, California, to help mitigate the impact of local ports on these two communities. Our grant funds HCBF interns so they can learn about the effects of oil on wildlife, get hands-on experience in rehabilitating aquatic birds, and conduct research to help Bird Rescue better care for the hundreds of patients we see every year.

Does this kind of research sound interesting? If you or someone you know might like to participate in a similar project, check out the HCBF Internship Program. It’s a rewarding and unique way to boost your resume or earn college credit while learning about aquatic birds and the scientific research process. Email Jo at internships@bird-rescue.org with any questions!


March 26, 2017

They’re Not “Seagulls”— and Other Fun Gull Facts!

Western Gulls and their three chicks at their a nest at the Ferry Terminal in San Francisco.

By Joanna Chin
Photos by Byron Chin

I have been a fan of gulls for over fifteen years. Amusingly enough, what piqued my interest was the gulls in the movie Finding Nemo. While those gulls were not the brightest, and thus their portrayal not the most accurate, I was so amused by them that I started paying more attention to the gulls around me. When you really look at them, gulls are beautiful, with their crisp white and gray feathers. They’re also adaptable—equally at ease on land, in the air, and on the water. While anyone can look at a gull and identify it as such, defining them is a challenge: My guide to North American Gulls defines them as a “widespread group of frequently gregarious, web-footed birds characteristically found near water.” I’ve learned a lot about gulls over the years, and though there is still so much for me to learn, I want to share some of my favorite gull facts so that you, too, might appreciate these intelligent and resourceful seabirds more.

• While many people refer to them as “seagulls,” this is a misnomer. Some gull species travel far inland, such as the Ring-billed Gull, and others are quite satisfied to hang around large lakes, rivers, and shipping channels.

• Gulls have an intricate system of communication. They’re big, strong birds that nest close to one another, and their extensive “vocabulary” helps to minimize fighting that could injure them or their chicks. This video from the Cornell Laboratory identifies and explains many of their calls. Next time you’re around a group of gulls, see if you can hear them making these calls—each species sounds a bit different, but they all have the same range of calls.

A pair of California Gulls and their two chicks. The male is giving the female a nice preen.

• Gulls have impressive site fidelity. They will return to the same area year after year to build their nests and raise their chicks. In the case of migratory gull species, many of these are faithful to their wintering sites, returning to the same territory winter after winter. If you pay attention to your local gulls, you will likely start to notice individuals hanging out in the same place every year!

• Gulls are monogamous. Most will stay with the same mate for many years, though “gull divorce” has been documented, often when there is conflict over nest-site or brooding duties or when one member of the pair is late returning to the nesting grounds. In addition, both males and females sometimes mate with birds other than their mate; these so-called “extra-pair copulations” occur with varying frequency amongst gull species.

Juvenile Western Gull by the Ferry Building takes a curious approach to a fisheye lens.

• Gulls are excellent parents. Both parents participate equally in incubating, guarding, and feeding the chicks well past fledging. They are fiercely protective and readily attack (including dive-bombing) people and other animals (including other gulls) that get too close to their nests. It is wise to keep your distance from gull nests, and to pay attention to the calls of the parents. If they’re vocalizing, they are telling you to step back from the nest!

• It takes time for a gull to grow up. All gulls require more than one year to reach maturity. If you’ve ever watched gulls for any length of time, you’ve probably seen gulls that were the size of adults but were completely brown. These are the “first cycle” gulls, the ones that hatched within the past year. Smaller-sized gull species may require as few as two years to reach adult plumage, whereas the larger gull species need four years. As they mature, gulls lose their brown feathers, replacing them with white/gray/black feathers. Many gulls also have color changes in their bills and feet.

Seagull Monument, Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: Wikipedia

• Gulls can be heroes. According to Mormon legend, in the spring of 1848, the first group of Mormons in what is now Salt Lake City planted their crops, only to have a swarm of insects (now known as Mormon crickets) descend upon their fields and begin eating everything in sight. Soon after, large numbers of California Gulls arrived and began consuming vast numbers of the insects, thus saving the crops and ensuring the survival of the Mormon settlers. Thus, the California Gull was designated as the state bird of Utah. In addition, the Seagull Monument was erected in Salt Lake City in honor of the California Gull.

• Gulls thrive where humans reside. Most people are well aware of this: Anyone who’s been to the beach has likely seen (or been the victim of) gulls scavenging food. Gulls are intelligent and patient scavengers. They know our habits and where to find an easy meal. Instead of getting upset, consider that we are the ones making this behavior possible. We must change our behavior to change theirs. Gull overpopulation has become a serious issue in some areas, including having a negative impact on other bird species, particularly ground-nesting shorebirds, as gulls eat their eggs and chicks.

The Western Gull is a scavenger and temptations abound when human garbage is plentiful.

Ways you can help:

– Never, ever feed the gulls! In addition to teaching them bad habits, much of our food is harmful to their health.

– Dispose of food waste appropriately, in a covered bin. Don’t leave food unattended, such as in an open bag on the beach. Even a sealed bag of chips is easy pickings for a hungry gull!

– Reduce the amount of food you discard from your home. Instead of sending food scraps to the landfill, consider composting! Your plants will thank you, too.

Now, head out there and watch some gulls! Most places, especially along the California coast, feature multiple species of gulls. Read more here about basic identification of  common gull species!


March 21, 2017

Know Your Gulls: A Very Basic Guide To Identifying Our Local Gulls

By Joanna Chin

Anyone can identify a gull, but did you know that there are over 50 species of gulls worldwide? And do you know which gull species live near you, and how to tell them apart?

March is Gull Month at International Bird Rescue, and we think a good way to celebrate this month is to learn how to identify some of our local gull species! We’re going to look only at adult plumage here, since all gulls have juvenile plumages that can make identification tricky for even the most experienced of birders. We’ll start with the basics of five gull species in California.

Please note that there are more than five species of gulls in the state, but the ones we’re going to concentrate on are some of the more common and distinctive. If you are interested in more gull information, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has wonderful information on the family Laridae (which includes gulls and their close relatives, terns and skimmers)!

Western Gull

Female Western Gull does the “head-toss” motion to signal to her mate. Photo by Byron Chin

The Western Gull is one of the most common gull species on the California coast. It is a large gull with a fairly dark gray back, black primaries (the feathers at the tips of the wings), pink feet, a yellow orbital ring (the narrow ring of flesh around the eye), and a sturdy yellow bill with a bright red spot on the mandible (lower half of the bill) called the gonydeal spot. This red dot serves a special purpose: It’s a target that the gull chicks peck at to entice the adult to regurgitate food for them. Although very common along the coast, Western Gulls are rarely seen more than two miles inland. These gulls do not migrate, and their appearance does not change during breeding season.

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull is lighter grey than Western. Photo by Byron Chin

The Glaucous-winged Gull looks a lot like the Western Gull until you look carefully! For one thing, the Glaucous-winged Gull’s back is a much lighter gray. Also, this gull has no black at all—the primaries (wingtips) are the same light gray as its back— and both its legs and its orbital ring are pink. Like the Western Gull, The Glaucous-winged Gull has a yellow bill with a red gonydeal spot. These birds breed along the northern Pacific Coast but head down the coast in the wintertime. You will often see them with some brown speckling on their head in the winter (something you’ll never see on a Western Gull). But just to make things complicated, Glaucous-winged Gulls hybridize with Western Gulls, producing a gull that looks somewhat like each of them! This happens frequently enough that these hybrids, which are common on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, have their own name: the Olympic Gull.

California Gull

California Gull tends to be smaller than the Western or Glaucous-winged. Photo by Byron Chin

The California Gull travels farther inland than either the Western or Glaucous-winged Gull. It tends to hang out in parking lots, as well as near the coast. It is smaller than the Western or Glaucous-winged and has a medium-gray back with black primaries, yellow-green legs, and a red orbital ring. Its eye is very dark (much darker, in fact, than the Ring-billed Gull I’ll discuss in a moment), it has a red gonydeal spot on the mandible of its bill, and it has a black ring near the tip of its bill. The corners of its mouth turn downward a bit, giving it a distinctive “frowning” expression! Like the Glaucous-winged Gull, the California Gull has brown speckling on its head in winter.

Ring-billed Gull

A Ring-billed Gull and a dozen cohorts. Photo by Byron Chin

The Ring-billed Gull lives in California during the winter (non-breeding) season and migrates to the northern U.S. and Canada during the summer to breed. It is just slightly smaller than the California Gull and has a medium-gray back, black primaries, bright yellow legs, and a red orbital ring. It also has bright yellow irises, giving the Ring-billed Gull a very “beady-eyed” appearance. Its bill is yellow with a thick black ring around it, and there is no red whatsoever. In winter, when this gull is in California, it has the brown speckling on its head. Like the California Gull, the Ring-billed Gull is found on the coast, as well as farther inland and in parking lots.

Heermann’s Gull

Heermann’s Gull takes flight in Monterey, CA. Photo by Byron Chin

The Heermann’s Gull is unlike any other gull you’ll find in California. It winters in the state but migrates to Isla Rasa, a small island in the Sea of Cortez near Baja, California, every summer to breed. In breeding plumage, the Heermann’s Gull’s back is dark gray, the remainder of its body is light gray, its primaries are black, and its head is pure white. It has black legs, a red orbital ring, and a red bill with a black tip. In the winter, when this gull returns from breeding, its head is heavily speckled with gray. Heermann’s Gulls are known to employ a feeding strategy called kleptoparasitism, which means they steal food from other birds, most commonly the Brown Pelican. Sometimes they are seen landing on a pelican’s head and reaching right into its pouch to steal fish! The Heermann’s Gull is, unfortunately, quite susceptible to climate change. Because it nests almost exclusively on a small island in the Pacific Ocean, events such as El Niño and “the Blob” (an unusually large mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean) can reduce the supply of food and influence breeding success. In fact, the Heermann’s Gull has had near total breeding failure for the past two years. Conservation efforts and swift action to slow climate change are critical to preserving this gorgeous species.

Share Your Gull Photos

Do you have a good picture of a gull, tern, jaeger, or a skimmer to share? Submit your photos to gulls@bird-rescue.org, including your name, the species and where the photo was taken, and you may see your photo soon on our social media.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more beautiful photos of gulls, terns, jaegers, and skimmers!


March 14, 2017

Intern’s Data Crunching Creates Better Understanding Of Blue-Banded Pelicans

Brown Pelican M43 sports a large, easy-to-read blue band. This bird originally came into care at Bird Rescue with a sea lion bite wound to the chest. Photo: Michael Bolte

Connor Mathews was a junior majoring in Wildlife Conservation and Ecology at the University of Nevada, Reno, when he started his internship, sponsored by the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation (HCBF), at Bird Rescue. He had already volunteered with Bird Rescue, so he was very familiar with the clinic and the birds we care for. Eager to help us with one of our ongoing, large-scale efforts, Connor chose to gather data for our Blue-Banded Pelican project (learn more), the purpose of which is to garner post-release survival and activity information on pelicans we’ve rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Connor combed through old records from over 1,200 Brown Pelicans that had been released over a seven-year period (2009–2015) and collected data on the type, location, and severity of the injuries that had brought them into our care. He also collected other significant information, such as whether the pelican had suffered from fishing hook/line-related injuries or conditions such as anemia and emaciation.

HCBF intern Connor Mathews presenting his research findings to IBR staff and volunteers and San Pedro and Wilmington community members.

The core part of the Blue-Banded Pelican project is that the pelicans we release are outfitted with a large and easy-to-read blue leg band, and the public is asked to report sightings of these banded birds through our website. Given that there were hundreds of reported sightings, Connor had his work cut out for him in trying to match each bird’s patient record with the corresponding blue-banded Brown Pelican sighting and re-sighting information. After days of data analysis, Connor arrived at many important results, but the most interesting one was the sheer number of banded birds that have been encountered and reported. We were able to follow up on many of the pelicans we had cared for, rehabilitated, and released, which allowed us to see how well many of them were doing back in the wild (check out a success story here).

Band Return Conclusions

• Pelicans that are in care for smaller amounts of time tend to survive longer after release

• Contaminated pelicans also tend to survive longer after release than pelicans with other types of major injuries

• Our Brown Pelicans that get released have the potential to travel very far distances

• However, further research needs to be done to see if our pelicans are mating in the wild

Take a look at some of Connor’s statistics:

Over 1,200 Brown Pelicans have been blue-banded, with the highest number in 2012. These numbers largely reflect the number of pelicans received for care.

Nearly one-half of all blue-banded Pelicans we released have been sighted at least once in the wild!

Does this kind of research sound interesting? If you or someone you know might like to participate in a similar project, check out the HCBF Internship Program. It’s a rewarding and unique way to boost your resume or earn college credit while learning about aquatic birds and the scientific research process. Email Jo at internships@bird-rescue.org with any questions!

About the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation

The HCBF offers community grants to organizations in San Pedro and Wilmington, California, to help mitigate the impact of local ports on these two communities. Our grant funds HCBF interns so they can learn about the effects of oil on wildlife, get hands-on experience in rehabilitating aquatic birds, and conduct research to help Bird Rescue better care for the hundreds of patients we see every year.