Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue


July 3, 2014

The week in bird news, July 3


• The Audubon Society of Portland is fighting a proposal by the US Army Corps of Engineers to kill up to 16,000 Double-crested Cormorants (shown above) on an island in the Columbia River in order to aid survivability of juvenile salmon and steelhead. The proposed project, which would kill roughly 20 percent of the cormorant population, also has been roundly announced by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility; the group’s executive director, Jeff Ruch, called it a “crazy, crude and needlessly cruel plan that should go right back to the drawing board.” [The Oregonian]

• More troubling news on the 2014 population survey of Brown Pelicans on the West Coast, via UC-Davis. [Futurity]

• The first flight of a young Laysan Albatross is captured via live-streaming wildlife camera on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. [National Geographic News]

• Also on Kauai, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Hawaiʻi Division of Forestry and Wildlife are working with a local utility company to save endangered Newell’s Shearwaters and Hawaiian Petrels.

How? By employing lasers attached to transmission poles and lines to keep the birds from crashing into them. Both birds have suffered a devastating reduction in their numbers in recent decades, largely due to feral cats and invasive species such as the mongoose. [Motherboard]

• A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change calls for listing the Emperor Penguin studyfindsemas an endangered species due to the encroaching effects of climate change. If sea ice continues to decline, at least two-thirds of Emperor Penguin colonies will shrink by more than half their current size by the year 2100, said lead author Stephanie Jenouvrier, a biologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “None of the colonies, even the southern-most locations in the Ross Sea, will provide a viable refuge by the end of the 21st century,” Jenouvrier said. [Phys.org]

• Exploding pollen alert! Read about the marvelous genus of flowers called Axinaea, which have a built-in appendage that explodes when clamped down on by a bird, dusting the animal with pollen. [Science Magazine]

• Scientists are using geolocators for Red Knots, currently considered a threatened species. “To date, all studies of shorebirds using geolocators have changed our conceptions about their migration strategies and the sites they use,” researchers wrote. “This study is no exception. It has revealed previously unknown stopover and wintering sites and a surprising lack of commonality between the eight focal birds in their migratory pathways.” [The Atlantic]

Tweets of the week:




June 11, 2014

Jay Holcomb, 1951-2014

A Tribute to International Bird Rescue’s Jay Holcomb from International Bird Rescue on Vimeo.

FAIRFIELD, Calif. (June 11, 2014) — International Bird Rescue executive director Jay Holcomb, an icon in the world of wildlife rehabilitation and a relentless pioneer in oiled wildlife care since the 1970s, has died. He was 63.

Holcomb passed away in Modesto, Calif. on June 10, 2014, surrounded by friends and family members. The cause of death was kidney cancer, according to Holcomb’s family.

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 cared for pelicans, gannets and other birds harmed by the environmental disaster.

“For decades, Jay was a singular force in saving wild birds everywhere, giving a voice to the animals who need it most,” said Susan Kaveggia, board chair of International Bird Rescue. “We can never replace him. But we can follow in his footsteps and continue to inspire others to care for wildlife in his memory.”

Holcomb began his career in wildlife rehabilitation over 40 years ago, having assisted in efforts to help birds affected by a large oil spill in the San Francisco Bay in 1971 — an environmental catastrophe that led to the founding later that year of International Bird Rescue Research Center (the organization shortened its name to International Bird Rescue in 2010).

Holcomb became executive director of International Bird Rescue in 1986 and has held director and director emeritus roles since then. During his leadership, the organization led or co-led oiled wildlife efforts at some of the world’s largest oil spill emergencies, from the MV Erika Spill in France to the Treasure Spill in South Africa. During the Gulf Spill in 2010, International Bird Rescue’s response team was mobilized in four states.

“I’ve devoted my career to wildlife rehabilitation,” Holcomb wrote in his organization’s 2013 annual report. “It’s an often unsung, crisis-based field, and the challenges in the work are many. But I can’t think of anything more rewarding I could have done with my life.”

In addition to his many published contributions to oiled wildlife care research, Holcomb launched the jay_peli_CB_spillBlue-Banded Pelican Project in 2009 to better track the post-release success of California Brown Pelicans cared for at International Bird Rescue’s two centers in California. He was a 2010 recipient of Oceana’s Ocean Heroes Award and the 2010 John Muir Conservationist of the Year Award for his work. Holcomb also received the 1996 National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) Lifetime Achievement Award.

A staunch defender of global efforts to care for wildlife impacted by oil spills, Holcomb was featured in the 2011 Emmy Award-winning documentary Saving Pelican 895 about International Bird Rescue’s efforts to save oiled birds in the Gulf spill.

Populations are made up of individuals, and if you start looking at individuals as if they’re not important, then ultimately the population becomes unimportant,” Holcomb said of his work in the film.

Jay Burch Holcomb was born in San Francisco on April 16, 1951 and lived there until he was 9 years old. His family then moved to San Anselmo in Marin County.

“Very early in my life, I became aware that I had a sense of purpose that I could not shake — nor did I want to — so I just lived as I was compelled to,” Holcomb recalled in 2011. “At age 5 or so, I became aware of an intense desire to help animals but had no idea how to make it happen. I held that knowingness in my mind, knew it would happen, and basically allowed it to unfold in front of me.”

After graduating from high school, Holcomb worked at the Marin Humane Society before joining International Jay w RaccoonBird Rescue, founded in 1971 by Alice Berkner. “Alice and I agreed that this organization was and should be for the birds and about the birds, with every action taken to be in their best interest,” Holcomb told Bay Nature magazine in 2010. “In 40 years, we have never wavered from that promise.”

Holcomb is survived by his mother, Joan Finney, two sisters, Judy Craven and Marianne Groth; brother, Don Stauffer; niece, Wendy Massey; nephew, Kenneth Craven; goddaughter, Elizabeth Russell; and close friends, Mark Russell and Russ Curtis.

Per his wishes, in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to a memorial fund established in Holcomb’s name benefiting wildlife rescue efforts at International Bird Rescue. We have set up a Jay Holcomb Memorial Fund page here.

If you prefer to give by check, contributions may be mailed to:

International Bird Rescue
Attn: Jay Holcomb Memorial Fund
PO Box 2171
Long Beach CA 90801

Barbara Callahan, a longtime senior staff member of International Bird Rescue who trained under Holcomb and serves as global response director, has been appointed interim executive director of the organization by the board of directors.

A public memorial is planned, details of which will be announced soon.

Our original post on the news of Jay’s death has a comment thread of dozens of people whose lives Jay touched. Click here to leave your own remembrance.

More obituaries and remembrances:

New York Times/AP: Jay Holcomb, Pioneer in Bird Rescue, Dies at 63

Los Angeles Times: Jay Holcomb, longtime leader in seabird rescue and rehab, dies at 63

San Francisco Chronicle: Jay Holcomb, beloved bird rescuer, dead at 63

Daily Breeze: Jay Holcomb, 1951-2014: International Bird Rescue center director dies at the age of 63

Jay’s Bird Blog

Jay with IBR founder Alice Berkner

image002 copy
Jay at a KNX-1070 open house event at IBR’s Los Angeles center, 2013

June 10, 2014

Mourning the loss of Jay Holcomb, our hero

Jay-Holcomb-International-Bird-RescueIt is with great sorrow that we share with you the news that International Bird Rescue Executive Director Jay Holcomb has passed away. Jay was surrounded by family and friends upon his passing in Modesto, Calif. on June 10, 2014.

For decades, Jay was a force of nature in his mission to save wild birds all over the world, giving a voice to the animals who need it most and teaching us to follow in his footsteps. We offer our deepest sympathies to his family at this time.

Because of Jay’s spirit and dedication, International Bird Rescue during his tenure grew into a global leader in wildlife rehabilitation — training animal professionals all over the world in emergency response and inspiring new generations of environmental advocates.

Barbara Callahan, our longtime Director of Response Services and a global expert on aquatic wildlife, will serve as Interim Executive Director during this difficult time. Thank you, Barbara, for your leadership and devotion to a cause that Jay cared so much about.

A memorial service is planned, and details will be announced soon.

Friend, mentor, hero: Jay, you are forever in our hearts. Thank you for devoting your life to animals. We cannot think of a more noble pursuit. — IBR Board of Directors

Read Jay’s obituary here.

Per his wishes, in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to a memorial fund established in Holcomb’s name benefiting wildlife rescue efforts at International Bird Rescue. We have set up a Jay Holcomb Memorial Fund page here.

We also wanted to share with you some wonderful words from Jay, written on the occasion of our 40th Montana 43 7.21.11 Hayden Nevill Jay rinsing c hawkanniversary in 2011:

I am a wildlife rehabilitator; that’s been my career and my life. All I have ever wanted to get across was the value, importance and beauty of animals, and to accept some accountability and responsibility for their welfare – especially when they are impacted by human activity.

This desire was born out of watching and befriending animals as a kid, and by listening to disturbing things that people thought of them.

Very early in my life, I became aware that I had a sense of purpose that I could not shake – nor did I want to – so I just lived as I was compelled to. At age 5 or so, I became aware of an intense desire to help animals but had no idea how to make it happen. I held that knowingness in my mind, knew it would happen, and basically allowed it to unfold in front of me. 


We would love to hear any remembrances you have of Jay. You can leave a note on the comments section of this ongoing memorial thread below. We’ll be putting together a book of these remembrances for Jay’s family and will have it on display for an upcoming memorial service.

June 6, 2014

The week in bird news, June 6


• Southern California Public Radio takes an in-depth look at how a lack of prey availability, perhaps driven by an El Nino climate event, has impacted Brown Pelican breeding this year. Breeding failure among Brown Pelicans has been observed in Baja California, where 80-90% of California Brown Pelicans breed.

“It’s been almost a nearly complete failure to breed, which is quite unusual actually,” said Dan Anderson, a professor emeritus at University of California-Davis who has visited Baja for 46 years to survey pelican breeding. “At one island that we study, Isla Salvatierra, which would normally have 8,000-10,000 young, only had like 20 young.” [Southern California Public Radio/KPCC]

• The New York Times reports on the saga over Black-crowned Night Herons in Oakland. IBR is pleased to report that four of the five herons are scheduled for a release on Saturday! (The fifth remains in care but is doing very well.) [New York Times]

• Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Pink the Pelican is released! LAT produces a great video as well on the rehabilitation journey for this special animal. [Los Angeles Times]

• Anna Weinstein of Audubon California has an insightful update on advocacy efforts to ensure proper monitoring of the California Brown Pelican, de-listed from the Endangered Species Act five years ago. [Audublog]

• Wildlife rehabilitators on a mission to save birds of prey in New Dehli, India. [Al Jazeera]

• One final pelican note: Congrats to filmmaker Judy Irving for reaching her Kickstarter goal on Pelican Dreams, her forthcoming documentary. Watch a trailer of the film below. [Vimeo]

Pelican Dreams – Trailer from Judy Irving on Vimeo.

May 30, 2014

The week in bird news, May 30


• The U.S. Corps of Engineers will recommend a $1 billion (that’s with a B) plan to restore the Los Angeles River, a vital waterway of the L.A. basin that’s been largely entombed in concrete for decades. The multifaceted plan would “restore habitat, widen the river, create wetlands and provide access points and bike trails along an 11-mile stretch north of downtown through Elysian Park,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

City officials are laudatory of the plan. “I was tenacious about this — it’s a big win for the city,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Times. “As I argued in the White House over and over, it’s the right thing for the ecology, it’s the right thing for the economy and for kids growing up being separated from downtown by a concrete flood control channel.”

Yellow-eyed_Penguin_MCSnowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Mallard Ducks, Black-necked Stilts and Cinnamon Teals are among the many bird species that call the river home. [Los Angeles Times]

• Do humans need birds to survive? The answer, according to Nobel Prize-winning immunologist Peter Doherty, the answer is an emphatic Yes. Check out his thoughtful oped on the subject. [CNN]

• Conservation advocates in New Zealand issue warnings about the impact of proposed energy exploration in sensitive areas where species such as the Chatham Island Taiko, Yellow-eyed Penguin (pictured above), Wandering Albatross and the New Zealand Fairy Tern call home. [Xinhua]

• Millions of birds are hit by cars each year, more than any other human activity, according to a new report in The Journal of Wildlife Management. [USA Today]

• Via Spain, the latest on the effects of plastic ingestion in seabirds. In this case, the wonderful Yelkouan and Balearic Shearwaters. [Nature News Network]

Tweets of the week:





May 29, 2014

Strengthening our Future: 2013 Annual Report

Dear Bird Lovers,

It’s my distinct pleasure to release International Bird Rescue’s annual report, a comprehensive look at our 2013 calendar year achievements that span the IBR mission: oil spill response, wildlife rehabilitation, innovative research and outreach to the communities we serve.

Download the 2013 Annual Report here (7.1 MB).

We’re extremely proud to have improved IBR’s financial outlook in 2013. A surplus in operating revenue helped us to shore up a 2012 deficit, while our strategic moves to cut administrative expenses and expand oiled wildlife response work to Canada (where it’s greatly needed) gave us new opportunities to strengthen IBR’s financial future.

But we’ve not stopped for a moment to rest. This year, we’ve seen an extremely busy season at both of our California wildlife centers, commanding additional staff and resources to carry out the Every Bird Matters pledge.

In 2014, we’ve also undertaken required improvements to our Alaska operations with a new Alaska Wildlife Response Center in Anchorage. This is a significant investment, but one critical to oiled bird response in the pristine Alaskan environment that we serve. As the world goes to greater lengths for energy extraction, IBR’s work has never been more important.

And your support of us has never been more needed. We thank all our members for ensuring that injured, oiled, abused and orphaned wild birds get the care they deserve from the world’s experts.

Killdeer-Suzi Eszterhas

Baby Killdeer, photo by Suzi Eszterhas


Jay Holcomb-Signature
Jay Holcomb

P.S. – As of this week, our centers are caring for over 300 birds, many of which are orphans. These are extremely busy days for our staff, who raise ducklings, goslings, killdeer, avocets and more. You can support their care through our Orphaned Baby Bird Fund!

May 23, 2014

Letter from South Africa: “The Jay Holcomb Wash ‘n Rinse Bay”

Jay Halcomb_Plaque

How sweet is this?

Our friends at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) recently dedicated their wash and rinse station for oiled birds to our fearless leader, Jay Holcomb. Here’s their letter on Jay’s lifetime of efforts to save oiled wildlife:


Dear Jay,

In honour of your legendary contribution towards saving seabirds, we would like to bestow the title of SANCCOB PATRON on you.

Your connection to South African seabirds goes back to the early days of 1994, when you were stuck washing fish buckets in the early days! In your very special way, your influence changed the way in which we in South Africa approach spills and deal with oiled seabirds.

Thank you, Jay, for the generosity with which you have shared lessons with SANCCOB over the years, for your continued support of our team, and for your dedication to seabirds, who in the end, are the recipients of your kindness, your passion and your knowledge.

SANCCOB is proud to acknowledge your contribution and to erect a plaque in your honour, so that from now on when our team is washing and rinsing oiled birds you will be watching over them.

The Jay Holcomb Wash and Rinse Bay
In honour of Jay Holcomb
A legend amongst Oiled Wildlife Responders

For your dedication and your passion to save seabirds

With sincere appreciation for a job well done!
Signed on behalf of the SANCCOB team,

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 5.48.20 PM

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 5.49.57 PM


May 16, 2014

The week in bird news, May 16

BCNH-Leah Mills
Baby Black-crowned Night Herons in International Bird Rescue’s care. Photo by Leah Mills,
© San Francisco Chronicle.

• The San Francisco Chronicle pays a visit to International Bird Rescue’s SF Bay center, where we recently met Ernesto Pulido, a tree-trimming business proprietor who has offered to support the care of baby Black-crowned Night Herons who fell from their nests and were injured in a incident in Oakland, CA. We were impressed by Pulido’s compassion, as well as his willingness to take responsibility for the incident and to do what he can to right the situation.

Writes Carolyn Jones of the Chronicle: “Pulido, a Bay Point resident, offered to pay $2,700 toward the birds’ care: the $2,200 he earned from the U.S. Postal Service for the tree-trimming job plus an additional $500. He’s already paid the $500 and is awaiting payment from the post office to pay the rest …

“But that wasn’t enough for Pulido. He wanted to learn more about night herons, what the center does to save them and what the public can do to help.” [San Francisco Chronicle]

• Ted Williams with Audubon Magazine writes on the plight of the Brown Pelican. [Yale Environment 360]

• This may be one of the most important news stories of the 21st century. Scientists have concluded that a large section of western13icenew-articleLarge Antarctica ice sheet has begun to thin and retreat, which could inexorably accelerate the rise in sea level by as much as 10 feet in the coming centuries.

“This is really happening,” Thomas P. Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research, said in an interview. “There’s nothing to stop it now. But you are still limited by the physics of how fast the ice can flow.” [New York Times]

• Today is Endangered Species Day. We are currently taking care of one species considered threatened in the state of California: A baby Black Rail, which fell victim to a cat attack. This animal is very secretive and tiny, so we have not yet taken a photograph as we do not want to stress the rail. We’ll post a photo when we feel confident that taking an image of the bird will not affect its rehabilitation.

• The LA Times gives an update on “Pink the Pelican,” who is doing extremely well after two surgeries to repair a human-inflicted pouch laceration. [Los Angeles Times]

• A bill to ban single-use plastic bags in California moves forward in the state assembly. [Los Angeles Times]

• Domoic Acid, a huge problem for seabirds as a result of toxic algae blooms, is taking its toll on marine mammals along the Pacific Coast. [Time]

• Solved? The mystery behind the evolution of flightless birds. [Daily Mail]

Tweets of the week:




May 2, 2014

The week in bird news, May 2

Tristan Albatross, photo by JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons

• A simple ruse is doing wonders to save albatrosses from becoming entangled in deep-sea trawling nets and drowning. The Cape Times in South Africa reports:

The solution was simple: a 30m rope is tied to the back of the trawler and about five to 10 “streamers” are attached to the rope at intervals of about 2m. A road cone at the sea end of the rope provides drag to ensure the line remains taut and keeps it aloft from the vessel. It runs parallel with the trawl cables. The streamers hang down and flutter in the breeze, distracting and confusing the seabirds enough to keep them away from the trawlers’ cables.

The bird-scaring lines, or tori lines, were invented by the Japanese captain of a long-liner fishing vessel.

Data on the successful method was announced Tuesday by Birdlife South Africa following a seven-year study. [Cape Times]

• A toxic algae bloom event in California’s Monterey Bay is killing seabirds due to domoic acid poisoning. [KSBW.com]

• Researchers find that several species of birds have actually thrived in the area surrounding the nuclear power station in Chernobyl, Ukraine, which exploded in 1986. [ScienceNews.org]

• Records from the The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey show that over the past five years wildlife contractors killed over 1,600 protected Semipalmated_Plover_(Charadrius_semipalmatus)_RWD1birds, including Semipalmated Plovers, without permission at John F. Kennedy International Airport. “It appears they will kill anything they see and they don’t think twice about it,” said Jennifer Barnes of Friends of Animals, which recently filed a federal lawsuit to suspend migratory bird killing at Kennedy. [Huffington Post Green; photo via Wikimedia Commons]

• Are wind farms “giant Cuisinarts for birds?” [News Channel 8 – Portland]

• Meanwhile, the Atlantic looks at ways to minimize bird kills at solar plants. [Atlantic]

• Reward in pelican mutilation case doubles to $20,000 amid outrage. Via LA Times: “Far too often, we see victims of senseless cruelty at the hands of people who are never punished,” Jay Holcomb, International Bird Rescue’s executive director, said in a statement. “We are thankful for the support of an anonymous donor to bring further attention to this horrifying case, and grateful for the Port of Long Beach’s support of Pink’s long-term care.” [Los Angeles Times]

Tweets of the week:






April 26, 2014

“Pink” the Pelican, animal cruelty victim

Pink the Pelican in care at IBR photo

We don’t typically name our patients, but the nickname “Pink” stuck.

Dear Friends,

“Man, that’s so sad. Good luck, little Pink.”

That’s what we overheard a TV news cameraman say on Wednesday while filming a victim of animal cruelty, now recuperating in the aviary at International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles center. You may have seen stories about this adult Brown Pelican on the news in the past few days. Here’s a recent photo of the bird, shown with a pink plastic leg band.

Though we don’t typically name our patients, the nickname “Pink” has stuck. And you can help Pink get a second chance.

A few days ago, Pink was found in Long Beach, CA with a severe pouch laceration leaving the bird unable to feed. Sadly, the wound is consistent with human-caused injury. It’s the worst deliberate pouch slashing we’ve ever seen.

We’re pleased to let you know that Pink has been able to feed on plenty of sardines over the past few days, thanks to the temporary staples placed in the animal’s pouch wound. On Sunday, our veterinarian will perform the first of what could be multiple surgeries.

pelican slashed pouch

“Pink” may need multiple surgeries to repair a slashed pouch.

When you give to support Pink, you’re not only giving this beautiful pelican a second chance. You’re also helping to support the 200-600 pelicans our L.A. wildlife center cares for each year: oiled, injured and even abused by humans.

We don’t know why someone would do this, but we encourage anyone with information on this attack to call US Fish and Wildlife at 310-328-1516. A $7,500 reward is currently being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for this crime. Tips may be given anonymously.

Thank you for your support.

In gratitude,

Team International Bird Rescue

Slashed-pelican-fundP.S. – Please visit birdrescue.org for regular updates on Pink in the coming weeks.