Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue


August 29, 2014

We’re hiring!

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

Photo by Frans Lanting, National Geographic

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.

August 15, 2014

The week in bird news, August 15

Yellow-billed Cuckoo via Wikimedia Commons

• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking to protect over a half-million acres across the western United States as critical habitat for the Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, whose population has been decimated by dams, livestock grazing and other environmental factors.

“The designation of critical habitat is an important step in recovering the western yellow-billed cuckoo,” said Jennifer Norris, Field Supervisor for the Service’s Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office. “Critical habitat identifies areas with essential nesting and fledgling sites where conservation actions are needed to protect and recover this imperiled songbird.”

Comments on the proposed habitat rule are being accepted through October 14. Read the full USFWS press release here.

The proposal promises to be a flashpoint on Capitol Hill, Politico reports. [Sierra Sun Times]

index• Big game poachers are poisoning African White-backed Vultures (pictured right) because their circling behavior above slaughtered elephant carcasses often tips off authorities. [Yale Environment 360]

• Marine biologist and National Geographic explorer-in-residence Sylvia Earle’s Netflix documentary Mission Blue premieres today. [Grist]

• CNN offers up some glorious clickbait with this round-up of summer aquatic bird photographs, including a wonderful White Tern. [CNN.com]

• How the California drought is crushing the Tricolored Blackbird population. [Audubon]

• Oy. Federal wildlife officials are trying to keep people and pets off Passage Key, a four-acre barrier island near Tampa Bay that’s become a weekend hotspot for beachgoers, some of them nude. The sandbar is a protected nesting spot, officials say.

“We want visitors to understand the ecological importance of this island,” said Ivan Vicente, visitor services specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “There aren’t many sandbars left for seabirds and shorebirds to nest and rest. As long as visitors remain in the water around the island, the seabirds and shorebirds will successfully continue to nest in Passage Key.” [Fox 13 News-Tampa]

• At SeaWorld, the world’s first “test-tube penguin.” [Daily Mail]

Tweets of the week:

August 12, 2014

Our cottonball-sized patient of the week: Black Rail chick

Photo by Isabel Luevano

Dear friends,

In a cozy, leafy incubator within International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay center, you’ll find the smallest aquatic bird patient we’ve ever cared for.

This is an orphaned baby Black Rail, an elusive bird and a threatened species in California due to habitat loss. The cottonball-sized chick was found at Shollenberger Park in Petaluma, CA, and recently was transferred to International Bird Rescue from our friends and partners at WildCare in San Rafael.

BLRAIt’s our first baby Black Rail, and though we limit human interaction with our avian patients whenever possible, we’re all awestruck by just how tiny and precious this bird is.

For a bird so rarely seen, Black Rails have become increasingly common patients. Several adult Black Rails we’ve cared for this year have been rescued after being disturbed and attacked by pets. To help build scientific knowledge of this little-understood animal, we work with the Black Rail Project at the University of California-Berkeley to band these birds, which aids in post-release research.

International Bird Rescue’s team of experts is well equipped to care for sensitive species – endangered, threatened or near threatened. These include the Marbled Murrelet, Ashy Storm Petrel, Snowy Plover and Piping Plover.

Whether it’s a rare Black Rail or a plucky Mallard duckling, we need your help to keep our wildlife centers running year-round for thousands of animals brought to us each year. Please make a donation today. Your contribution will provide much-needed support for wild birds we all love.


Barbara Signature

Barbara Callahan
Interim Executive Director

Update: The San Francisco Chronicle is on the story …

August 8, 2014

The week in bird news, August 8


Photo by Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons

• New York-based Friends of Animals is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over a now-shuttered program to kill Snowy Owls at New York’s Kennedy International Airport. On Friday, a federal judge heard arguments from the animal rights group , which is seeking to change policies of avian removal at the nation’s sixth busiest airport, located adjacent a key habitat for aquatic birds and migratory species. Snowy Owls showed up from Washington, D.C. to Boston during this past (and frigid) winter. [New York Times]

• Also in the bird hazing department at major airports: A Dutch company is using 3-D printing to produce “raptor drones” that could be used to scare away birds and avoid bird strikes with commercial aircraft. [Motherboard]

• A mine tailings pond dam collapse in British Columbia spilled millions of cubic meters of effluent into local waterways. Preliminary water tests in the area met drinking water standards, and while B.C. Premier Christy Clark called the test results “promising,” she stipulated, “We are profoundly concerned about what happened.” Wigeons, pintails and grebes are all common species in the area. [Vancouver Sun]

• Rancor ensues over the new Minnesota Vikings stadium in Minneapolis, decried as a “death trap” for birds. [Mother Jones]

• Marine plastic pollution research isn’t limited to the oceans. Scientists off the coast of Lebanon are studying the effect of microplastics in the eastern Mediterranean. [The Daily Star-Lebanon]

• An abundance of prey in California’s Monterey Bay has been attracting seabirds as well as Humpback Whales. Officials are now warning the public to keep distance from this gentle giants. [CBS-SF Bay Area]

• A terrific citizen science/workplace procrastination opportunity: Help Audubon study the Puffins of Maine! [ABC News]

• BirdCam we’re watching right now: Long-eared Owl Cam, Missoula MT via Explore.org. And check out our White-faced Ibis on our BirdCam Project!

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

August 7, 2014

We heartily endorse …

Photo by Richard Bartz

Let’s hear it for citizen science!

The National Audubon Society is seeking the eager eyes of birders everywhere to keep tabs on Puffins featured via its Explore.org webcam. The birds are considered threatened species in the state of Maine, where the webcam project is based.

Via the Associated Press:

There are about 1,000 pairs of the seabirds, known for their multi-colored beaks and clownish appearance, in Maine. Audubon says the number of puffin fledging chicks has declined in the last two years, possibly because their key food source, herring and hake, are leaving for cooler waters. Puffins are on the state’s threatened species list.

Audubon maintains three web cameras on Seal Island, a National Wildlife Refuge in outer Penobscot Bay, 22 miles off Rockland and one of the key puffin habitats in Maine. Volunteers are being asked to watch the puffins feed and answer questions about their feeding behavior, said Steve Kress, director of the National Audubon Society’s seabird restoration program.

Read the full story here.

August 2, 2014

An Elegant Tern Loses Her Baby to Fishing Hooks

Terns in tangle after being hooked together last month in Southern California.

Elegant Terns in tangle after being hooked together last month in Southern California. Photo by Nick Liberato

Dear Friends,

If you work in this business, you learn to live with a lot of heartache. For every case ending in an awe-inspiring release, there’s an animal whose injuries were just too much to bear.

Some stories are a mix of both.

PBGR-Donate-buttonOur Los Angeles center team recently received this adult Elegant Tern and a tern chick hooked together by a multi-hook fishing lure.

Nick Liberato, a biologist who monitors a tern colony on nearby Terminal Island, found the birds and took the photo upon rescue. “I spotted them as I was ushering some stray chicks back through the chick fencing and into the main rookery,” Liberato says. “At first, I thought they were just tangled in monofilament [fishing line], but when I saw that multi-hooked lure puncturing both of them, I knew my tools wouldn’t cut it, so I got them over to you guys as quickly as possible.”

Our rehabilitation team separated mother from chick and extensively nursed the severe wounds of both animals. Sadly, the tern’s injuries had already become infected, and this baby bird did not survive. The mother healed remarkably after several weeks of care, and was recently released by our intern and volunteer team at Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach, CA. You can see video of this story below.

Fishing hooks and fishing line are such a pervasive problem for seabirds, and a leading cause of injury in the birds we care for at our California centers. If you fish, be mindful of where your gear ends up. We know there are many fishermen who are responsible, and it’s our wish that you’ll spread this message to others. We are grateful that you set a good example out on the water and at the cleaning stations.

And we can all do our part by picking up plastic pollution and discarded gear wherever we see it in the marine environment. You may end up saving a wild bird’s life.

Meanwhile, a particularly busy summer of orphaned birds, injured pelicans and oiled seabirds continues full steam. By last count, we have well over 300 injured, ill or orphaned birds at our wildlife hospitals. Please consider making a donation to support the birds we all love. A gift of $100, $50, $25 or even $10 goes a long way.

In gratitude,

Barbara Signature

Barbara Callahan
Interim Executive Director

A bittersweet release: Elegant Tern from International Bird Rescue on Vimeo.

August 1, 2014

The week in bird news, August 1

• The Pacific Northwest is seeing a dramatic and troubling decline in seabird species, from the once-ubiquitous Western Grebe to Surf Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks. Fish availability may be a major contributing factor, according to several new studies. “It’s one thing to have a rare species decline,” Joe Gaydos of the SeaDoc Society tells the Seattle Times. “But we’re not talking about a few plovers. We’re talking about big, common species, and a lot of them.” [Seattle Times]


Image via Seattle Times

Black Oystercatchers are showing up at Aramburu Island near Tiburon, CA, thanks to restoration efforts that include the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary. “We have been working on the shoreline to make it suitable for breeding and we finished only late last year so this is immediate validation,” said Jordan Wellwood, center director. “We also saw the egg shells hidden as we thought they would be. The birds identified this as a good location.” [Marin Independent Journal]

•On Earth contributing editor Bruce Stutz makes an impassioned and convincing plea to restore wetlands. [Yale Environment 360]

• A few weeks ago we were dismayed to hear of plans in Florida to build a Wal-Mart and accompanying shopping center on an endangered ecosystem. Turns out, that’s not the only threat to this area of pine rocklands forest, home to Pine Warblers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. [Think Progress Climate]

• The Minneapolis City Council will consider implementing bird-safe glass in a $1 billion new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. Both the American Bird Conservancy and Audubon Minnesota have been instrumental in pushing for the bird-safe design. [Minneapolis Star Tribune]

• (?!) DDT is still killing songbirds in Michigan. [Scientific American]

• Amazing! Wired takes a look at Colombian artist Diana Beltran Herrera’s exquisite and lifelike paper birds. [Wired]


Tweets of the week:

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