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November 11, 2014

Plastic ingestion measured in seabird feather oil

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Northern Fulmar, photo by Cheryl Reynolds

NOFUWith the rise of global industrialization and a rapidly expanding consumer culture, marine plastic pollution is fast becoming an existential threat to seabirds. Birds that live and feed on the open sea, such as albatrosses and fulmars (above), often mistake floating plastic for prey.

Over time, this ingestion can kill the animal, and in many cases, adult birds will regurgitate plastic when feeding their young. The upcoming documentary Midway (see below) highlights this problem with stark and heartbreaking footage.

Researchers seeking to better understand the extent of problem have now found that by measuring levels of certain chemical compounds in preening oil, they are able to estimate the level of ingestion in a bird. Previous methods of determining plastic volume in a live bird’s digestive tract have been more invasive, while analyzing the stomach contents of a dead bird depends on a biased sample set (bird carcasses that have washed up on shore, for example).

Preening oil is produced by the uropygial gland at the base of a bird’s tail, and is vital to maintaining waterproofed feathers. Petroleum destroys such waterproofing, which impedes a bird’s ability to regulate body temperature. Scientists at CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship in Australia report that by collecting oil form the gland with a swab, they can measure levels of phthalates — chemical compounds that make plastic more durable and flexible. The amount of phthalates in preening oil correlated with the amount of plastic swallowed by the animals studied.

The research is published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

November 11, 2014

Sharing our rehabilitation expertise with California colleagues

Snowy Egret, Karen Schuenemann
Photo by Karen Schuenemann

CCWR PT lab 2This past weekend, International Bird Rescue veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr and operations manager Julie Skoglund attended the 20th annual California Council for Wildlife Rehabilitators symposium. They co-taught a lecture and workshop for rehabilitators on avian physical therapy with Janelle Freshman, a physical therapist and International Bird Rescue volunteer at our Los Angeles center.

The goal of these presentations was to help rehabilitators return their patients to full athletic functioning after recovery from injury or illness, and to increase positive outcomes from often-debilitating musculoskeletal problems.

Dr. Duerr also presented a lecture on nutrition, critical care and rehabilitation, where she explained nutrition concepts related to the treatment of severely emaciated animals, as wild animals very commonly enter care in extremely poor nutritional condition. As a result, wildlife rehabilitators often struggle to nurse these difficult cases back to health.
Symposiums such as this provide a great opportunity for our staff to share knowledge, learn new things, and visit with old friends and new colleagues!

Conference photo via Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County

November 7, 2014

An unforgettable internship, thanks to the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation

HCBF_Logo with webGood news! International Bird Rescue is thrilled to continue our partnership with the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation (HCBF) to give local students an unforgettable internship experience at our Los Angeles center!

This week, we received our second grant through HCBF’s highly competitive Community Benefit Grant program, designed to mitigate the impact of Port of Los Angeles and Port-related operations in Wilmington and San Pedro. Our Harbor Community Academic Internship Program is a hands-on opportunity to work with wildlife, as intern almuna Leah can tell you in the video above!

Individuals interested in this program must be 16 years of age or older, have community ties to the Los Angeles area and demonstrate an educational and/or career interest in fields such as wildlife biology, conservation, nonprofit work, oil spill response, ornithology and photography/film.

Click here to apply and to read more information on this wonderful internship opportunity. Thanks, HCBF!

HCBF-Internship
Harbor Community Benefit Foundation (HCBF) is an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization formed in 2011. Its mission is to assess, protect, and improve the health, quality of life, aesthetics, and physical environment of the harbor communities of San Pedro and Wilmington, California, which have been impacted by the Port of Los Angeles. HCBF accomplishes this through grantmaking, independent research, and community events.

November 7, 2014

7th anniversary of the Cosco Busan spill in the San Francisco Bay

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You can become a member of International Bird Rescue and support work to save seabirds by clicking here.

November 5, 2014

A grim tally: Over a half-million birds may have died during Gulf Oil Spill

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Photo by Brian Epstein

With the five-year anniversary of the Gulf Oil Spill approaching, the largest accidental marine spill in history may have killed well over a half-million birds, according to a new study published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

Using statistical models based on recovered bird carcasses and seabird density data in the Gulf of Mexico, a team of researchers has estimated that between 600,000 to 800,000 birds died in the near-term aftermath of the spill. Researchers reported that the full range of avian fatalities could be as low as 300,000 and as high as 2 million.

The four species most affected were the Laughing Gull, which suffered nearly a one-third population decline in the Gulf region, followed by the Royal Tern, Northern Gannet and Brown Pelican. Audubon Christmas Bird Count numbers of Laughing Gull populations from 2010 to 2013 appear to track the researchers’ conclusions.

Federal officials had removed the Brown Pelican from the Endangered Species List just months prior to the disaster; these birds suffered double-digit declines in Gulf of Mexico coastal habitat, according to the study.

Mortality Study

BP, the multinational petroleum company operating the offshore rig that exploded in April 2010, has criticized the researchers’ methodology as well as funding for the paper by plaintiff’s attorneys who are pursuing litigation against the oil-and-gas giant (read BP’s public statement here).

International Bird Rescue co-managed oiled wildlife rescue efforts in four states during the Gulf Spill along with our partners at Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research.

multinational oil and gas company

Laughing Gull photo by Rachid H/Creative Commons; Royal Tern photo by Alan Vernon/Creative Commons; Northern Gannet photo by Xavier Ceccaldi/Creative Commons; Brown Pelican photo by Cheryl Reynolds.

October 10, 2014

The week in bird news, October 10

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• Ocean temperatures are rising faster than many scientists had predicted. Most unsettling: Since 1970, the upper 2,300 feet of the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans may be warming at twice the rate of previous estimates.

“Seas have risen 8 inches since the industrial revolution, and they continue to rise at a hastening pace, worsening floods and boosting storm surges near shorelines around the world,” Climate Central’s John Upton reports. “Another 2 to 7 feet of sea level rise is forecast this century, jeoparizing the homes and neighborhoods of the 5 million Americans who live less than 4 feet above high tide, as well as those of the hundreds of millions living along coastlines in other countries.” [Climate Central]

• Scientists are studying mercury content in Little Auks of the Arctic to identify potential contamination in food chains of northern climes. [Scientific American]

• Preliminary results in the study of American White Pelican eggs in Minnesota have found evidence of WhitePelicanLanding640contaminants from the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, including the dispersant Corexit, according to researchers at North Dakota State University. [MinnPost; photo via Creative Commons/Chuck Abbe]

• In climate change preparations, California leads the nation, Grist reports. Read the state’s climate change adaption strategy here. [Grist.org]

• Add another human-caused hazard to nesting birds. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory found that open pipes posed a “potentially very large” risk of bird mortality for species including Ash-throated Flycatchers, Acorn Woodpeckers and Spotted Towhees. [American Bird Conservancy]

Tweets of the week:

October 3, 2014

The week in bird news, October 3

• Few sights are more depressing than that of a plastic bag floating down an urban waterway as it heads right for the ocean. Though a worse predicament comes to mind: That same plastic bag entangling and suffocating a bird.

On the West Coast, this sight will hopefully be on the decline.

This week, California became the first state to ban single-use plastic bags from grocery stores and other retailers. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law Tuesday, though plastic bag lobbyists have vowed to push for a ballot measure in the Golden State to overturn the environmental victory.

“This bill is a step in the right direction – it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself,” Brown wrote in a signing message. “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”

It’s yet to be seen whether a campaign to overturn the law will succeed, the Sacramento Bee reported, as more than one-third of Californians already live in municipalities and counties where single-use plastic bags are banned.

Major retailers will be barred from using plastic bags by July 2015, with smaller businesses phasing them out by July Gullwithplasticbag2016.

We’re hoping cases like this one won’t be seen again at our wildlife centers: Here, a California Gull is treated by our San Francisco Bay center after a member of the public found the bird struggling with a plastic bag wrapped tightly around its neck and body. [Sacramento Bee]

• An oil spill in Quintero Bay, Chile is threatening a small number of marine bird species including Humboldt Penguins. [The Marine Executive]

• A long-running attempt to relocate Double-crested Cormorants from the old span of the eastern San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge continues to face challenges. As we’ve done for several years, International Bird Rescue is at the ready to care for any eggs or chicks that may be disturbed or displaced during this careful process. [San Francisco Chronicle]

• An interview and preview of Judy Irving’s new documentary, Pelican Dreams. [San Francisco Chronicle]

• The team at Dawn stops by our Los Angeles center to celebrate World Animal Day and our amazing volunteers! [Business Wire]

• Naturalists in Australia are struggling to eradicate fox predation on Pied Oystercatchers. [ABC-Australia]

September 26, 2014

The week in bird news, Sept. 26

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Map courtesy Marine Conservation Institute

• When the world’s largest marine reserve quadruples in size, you know it’s been a good week in the conservation world.

On Thursday, President Obama expanded the total area of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to 490,00 square miles — about three times the size of California.

While the overall size of the monument expansion is considerably less than what the administration originally proposed in July (782,000 square miles), it’s a victory protecting remote islands and surrounding open sea from commercial fishing. This can only mean good news for seabirds.

Via Vox:

5702927666_58b6d8d9e9_zThe area covered by the new reserve features a large number of fish, marine mammal, coral, bird, and plant species that aren’t found anywhere else in the world. There are several endangered species, such as the hawksbill sea turtle and the humphead wrasse. Additionally, the expansion increases the total number of protected underwater mountains called seamounts (known to be areas of high biodiversity) to 130, up from 50 in the old reserve.

While the reserve covers remote areas that don’t suffer heavily from local pollution or commercial fishing, there are some tuna fleets that operate in the area. They typically use purse seining techniques, which involve tightening a net around a school of fish attracted to something called a fish aggregating device. In many cases, this technique produces high amounts of bycatch — fish from other, unintended species that are discarded — so tuna fishing can deplete all sorts of fish species in an ecosystem. [Vox.com; photo: Masked Boobies, found on Jarvis Island and other remote islands protected by the marine reserve (photo via US Fish and Wildlife]

• Controversy builds over the incineration of migratory birds flying over a massive solar power plant in California. [WSJ]

• More research on marine pollution’s effects on seabirds show that plastic in the environment is highly absorbent of heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic, which can impact fertility levels of birds as well as lead to malnutrition. [ABC-Australia]

• Dead seabirds are washing up at Pismo Beach along the central California coast, and authorities have yet to determine why. [KSBY-San Luis Obispo]

• Hungarian photographer Gyula Sopronyi gives a captivating bird’s eye view of barges as they traverse our oceans and rivers. [Huffington Post]

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September 24, 2014

A sneak peek of Pelican Dreams in Sonoma

Mark your calendars!

On Wednesday, October 8, our friends at Sonoma Birding are hosting a sneak-peek of Pelican Dreams, Judy Irving’s documentary on one of California’s most beloved birds. The film is a project six years in the making, with plenty of footage from our San Francisco Bay center. Our team will be in attendance to give you a wonderful picture of the work we do to help injured pelicans.

When: Wed, Oct 8 from 7pm -8:30pm
Where: Veteran’s Memorial Building, 126 First Street West, Sonoma CA
Tickets: $8 at the door

Via Sonoma Birding:

Pelican Dreams: Ready to Fly!!

Judy Irving, a Sundance- and Emmy-Award-winning filmmaker known for The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, is coming to Sonoma. Now it’s pelicans and their ancient magic, near-extinction and recovery paralleling our human relationship to the environment. One August afternoon, a confused, tired and very hungry young pelican landed on the roadway of the Golden Gate Bridge, causing a spectacular traffic jam and providing the beginning of a perfect narrative arc for this film.

Come see clips and hear from International Bird Rescue experts, who provided rehab care for “Gigi” (the pelican named for Golden Gate).

CA brown pelicans flying

September 24, 2014

A new aviary at our San Francisco Bay center

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Snowy Egret, photo by Cheryl Reynolds

Good news for the birds of California and beyond!

California state wildlife agencies have approved funding in the amount of $100,000 to create a new aviary for wild birds in Northern California harmed by oil spills and other environmental problems, officials announced Wednesday.

The 3,600-square-foot project will create a critically needed new aviary for egrets, herons, shorebirds and multiple species of waterfowl cared for year-round at the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center, located in Fairfield and operated by our team at International Bird Rescue. Funding comes from the UC Davis Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR).

Construction of the new $175,000-$200,000 structure is scheduled to begin in spring 2015.

The aviary will be built in memory of Jay Holcomb (pictured below), a pioneer in the field of oiled wildlife care who served for decades as International Bird Rescue’s executive director. Holcomb died on June 10 from kidney cancer at age 63.Logos-for-Release

“Jay Holcomb dedicated his life and career to helping birds in crisis, especially those injured due to human activities such as oil spills,” said Dr. Michael Ziccardi, Oiled Wildlife Care Network director. “I can think of no better way to honor his memory than helping to build a world-class aviary at one of the premiere OWCN facilities in California.”

In addition to the initial $100,000 contribution, Dr. Ziccardi said that his organization will also match private contributions for the project donated to the Jay Holcomb Legacy Fund, established by International Bird Rescue in July, up to an additional $100,000. Tax-deductible contributions can be made online at here.

jay holcombThe San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center is the primary facility to treat birds and other animals affected by oil spills in Northern California. The 12,000-square-foot center can accommodate up to 1,000 birds, and features outdoor aviaries and pools for a wide variety of seabirds and other aquatic species. Oiled animals from the 2007 Cosco Busan spill in the San Francisco Bay were transported and rehabilitated at the center, which routinely cares for nearly 3,000 birds annually.

“The Office of Spill Prevention and Response stands committed to ensuring the best achievable response to an oil spill, and this facility will provide injured wildlife with critical aid and rehabilitation,” said OSPR administrator Thomas Cullen. “California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network is recognized throughout the world as a center of excellence in oiled wildlife care, and by helping to fund this project, we will maintain that excellence.”

Avocet IMG_2988-LBoth the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Dawn®, widely known for its use in cleaning oiled birds, have also committed generous funding to the new aviary. Dawn® is a longtime sponsor of International Bird Rescue, contributing both financially and through product donations.

The new aviary will comprise 14 separate enclosures designed specifically for the unique needs of aquatic birds in a wildlife rehabilitation setting. Species to be cared for include Black-crowned Night Herons, wading birds commonly found in local urban areas. This species was the subject of extensive national news coverage this summer after a rookery in Oakland was disturbed by tree trimmers, causing a number of baby birds to fall from their nests. Five surviving chicks were raised by International Bird Rescue and released in June.

The project was originally conceived by Holcomb, Ziccardi and staff of both International Bird Rescue and UC Davis in 2000 as a planned expansion of the San Francisco Bay center after its initial construction. The current design was developed in 2007 by architect Robert L. Shaw of Eugene, OR.

In July, local wildlife advocates and representatives of environmental groups from around the world paid tribute to Holcomb during a memorial event held at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Under his direction, International Bird Rescue grew into one of the world’s preeminent wildlife organizations, caring for animals affected by large-scale oil spills such as Exxon Valdez in 1989 and the Gulf Spill in 2010, where Holcomb and his team worked in four states to save pelicans, gannets and other birds harmed by the environmental disaster.

Black-crowned-Night-Heron-Karen-Schuenemann“An aviary that will care for thousands of injured birds each year is a moving and fitting tribute to Jay Holcomb,” said Barbara Callahan, International Bird Rescue interim executive director. “Jay’s dying wish was that his work continue full-steam. This funding will help us to accomplish that mission, and we’re so thankful for the support of all of our partners in protecting California’s precious wildlife.”

You can help support the construction of this new aviary, and your gift will be matched! Visit the Jay Holcomb Legacy Fund page for more info.

Bird photos: American Avocet (above) by Bill Steinkamp; Black-crowned Night Heron (below) by Karen Schueunemann.

September 12, 2014

Dispatches from the International Sea Duck Conference in Iceland

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Harlequin Duck, photo by Andrew A Reding/Flickr Creative Commons

Over the past week, Reykjavik, Iceland has be the site of the 5th International Sea Duck Conference. More than 140 people from nearly 30 image_largecountries have listened, questioned and discussed a wide variety of issues important to understanding sea ducks, their biology, habitat, threats and survival. Unlike most conferences, we have also gotten daily volcano updates and had the opportunity to see eider ducks feeding at the shore. Iceland and Reykjavik are much as what you might expect, very modern surrounded by beautiful isolation.

The program has been both interesting and valuable for me and the work we do at International Bird Rescue. The papers have addressed effects of climate change, body condition measurement techniques, emerging diseases, developments in radio telemetry techniques, and sea duck monitoring and modeling. The primary species studied and discussed are the Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Harlequin Ducks, and Common, King and Spectacled Eiders — all species that we have worked with in many responses going back to our founding in the 1970s. Nearly every presentation contains nuggets of information that can be applied to preparedness and response including rehabilitation. Being here provides an opportunity to find these nuggets as well as to network with the scientists who can be key in getting accurate information about local species at risk if a spill occurs.

While I have been surprised by how many of the participants I have met over the years, most of them are not regular participants in the Sea Duck Conference1-1rehabilitation or oil industry conferences we regularly attend. Their perspective is one that we less regularly hear, and that makes it even more valuable to hear their ideas. Responding to oil spills all over the world presents a number of different challenges, but one of the biggest problems is that we almost always lack local knowledge. We rely heavily on local people and local biologists working with the species affected by an oil spill to mount the best possible emergency response and to achieve the best possible care. Having a familiar face makes it that much easier to develop trust and understanding and get down to the emergency at hand.

One of the most interesting presentations for me was Dr. James Lovvorn’s talk on Designating Critical Habitat in a Climatically Changing Arctic: Eiders, Sea Ice and Food Webs, as one of my current projects is working on planning and preparedness on the remote Northwest Alaska coast of the Chukchi Sea. Although not as immediately of obvious value but very thought provoking were a number of papers on personalities, stress and brain size — all of which I hope to learn more about to further our rehabilitation success.

team_curt_cAll in all, it has been great experience, leaving me eager to apply what I have learned and also eager to learn more from some newly discovered colleagues.

Curt Clumpner

Preparedness Director

Map: Seabirds of Iceland via European Environment Agency

September 9, 2014

Climate disruptions affecting North America’s bird species

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Over half of North America’s bird species will see their geographic ranges dramatically shrink as a result of climate change in the coming decades, according to a new study by the National Audubon Society.

Based on decades of data from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the report finds that 126 avian species are “climate endangered,” meaning that they are projected to lose over 50% of their current habitat based on widely accepted greenhouse gas emissions projections. A loss of habitat and geographic shift in where birds can successfully feed and breed poses the risk of extinction for species that may not successfully adapt.

Among those predicted to lose habitat range include the Common Loon (see map above), the Bufflehead (photo right), and the California Gull — all Bucephala-albeola-007commonly seen at our wildlife centers in California.

“Common sense will tell you that with these kinds of findings, it’s hard to believe we won’t lose some species to extinction,” David Yarnold, president of the National Audubon Society, said in an interview with the New York Times. “How many? We honestly don’t know. We don’t know which ones are going to prove heroically resilient.”

Read the full article here.

 

August 31, 2014

Lessons learned (or ignored) from the Passenger Pigeon’s fate

passenger pigeons_woodcut from the 1870s shows passenger pigeons being shot in LouisianaJohn W. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, writes one of the finest op-eds of the year, a stirring call to action to save vulnerable bird species of America from the fate of the Passenger Pigeon.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of “Martha,” the world’s last-remaining Passenger Pigeon who died at the Cincinnati Zoo on Sept. 1, 1914. The species population once numbered over 3 billion, before rampant hunting and habitat destruction led to steep losses in the 19th century.

With alarming declines today of many bird species in America, including the Eastern Meadowlark and the Northern Bobwhite, Fitzpatrick in a New York Times op-ed offers a modest proposal:

I suggest that the broader conservation argument transcends cost efficiencies and scientific analyses and should focus instead on the moral questions posed by Martha. Most of us wish we could see those storied passenger pigeon flocks for ourselves, so why aren’t we doing everything possible to keep some of our most common wild things from meeting the same fate? Don’t our great-grandchildren have the right, as part of their American heritage, to experience choruses of meadowlarks singing “spring is here!” from treetops and fence posts?

Read the full oped here.

August 29, 2014

We’re hiring!

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International Bird Rescue is currently accepting applications for a part-time rehabilitation technician position at our San Francisco Bay wildlife center!

Click here for more info on this hands-on position in an exciting wildlife hospital environment.

 

August 27, 2014

NatGeo: Icelandic seabird colonies in peril

Troubling news out of Iceland, the world’s primary breeding ground for such amazing seabirds as puffins and razorbills, and a veritable “Serengeti for fish-eating birds.”

National Geographic reports on the dramatic decline of seabird colonies and horrendous chick die-offs:

“There are just dead chicks everywhere,” said Freydis Viafusdottir, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Exeter in Cornwall, England. “Not only do you have to provide your field assistants with food and shelter, but also some psychological help after many, many days of collecting dead chicks.”

Similar trends have been reported throughout the North Atlantic, including Norway, Scotland and the Faroe Islands.

Researchers interviewed blamed climate change for disturbing sensitive breeding seasons and adversely affecting fish populations on which seabirds depend:

“What is happening in Iceland, we see happening in so many other areas in the North Atlantic. And the fact that we’re seeing them over such a wide area points to a common factor … and that is climate change,” said Aevar Petersen, a retired Icelandic Institute of Natural History ornithologist.

Other experts place the blame squarely on over-zealous commercial fishing practices that have decimated capelin numbers.

Read the full story here.