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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
The 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.”
Both 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.
“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.
Information on panelists, paper submissions and more will be found in the coming weeks at eowconference.org.
A third oiled Brown Pelican in as many weeks has been transferred to our Los Angeles center. Malibu resident Blake Krikorian captured the heavily oiled animal on Saturday and brought it to our rehabilitation partners at California Wildlife Center, who then arranged for transport to our center.
You would never know it from the capture photo, but this is another adult bird — the wash photos below show the pelican’s white head.
We are pleased to report that Wednesday’s wash of the animal went extremely well; this pelican is on track to join “Pink” and other adult birds sharing an outdoor aviary as they recover from different injuries.
Further reading on Brown Pelicans:
• Species profile on All About Birds
• Keeping watch over brown pelicans, International Bird Rescue blog
• Plight of the pelican, Los Angeles Times
Our Los Angeles team has been dealing with an array of oiled aquatic birds in recent days, from Common Murres to a very large Common Loon. And now, this Brown Pelican, brought to us 100% oiled by a contaminant with the consistency of motor oil.
Rehabilitation technician Kelly Berry reports that the adult female was found on April 10 at Faria Beach near Ventura and Santa Barbara, CA. The bird was initially taken to Santa Barbara Wildlife, which then transferred this patient to us.
Thankfully, the pelican was thermo-regulating and self-feeding upon arrival at our center. “After a full day of supportive care and a physical exam, the bird was deemed healthy enough for a wash,” Berry says. “It was washed today, and under all that oil was a beautiful adult female pelican! She ended the evening assist-feeding sardines.”
We’ll post updates on this patient once she graduates to an outdoor enclosure. Below are photos of the bird pre-wash, during-wash and after-wash. (What a difference, indeed.)
Further reading on Brown Pelicans:
• Species profile on All About Birds
• Keeping watch over brown pelicans, International Bird Rescue blog
• Plight of the pelican, Los Angeles Times
• Clean-up and wildlife rescue efforts continue following the collision of two barges on March 22 that caused an estimated 170,000 gallons to spill into Galveston Bay, Texas. The National Audubon Society in a statement reported that damage to bird habitats may be contained to the immediate area surrounding the spill. Only a relatively small number of oiled birds has been collected and transported to wildlife rehabilitators.
Here’s the latest we’ve seen from multiple news outlets:
• Houston Audubon: “It’s a terrible event. It sure could have been a lot worse.” [Los Angeles Times]
• Audubon has a comprehensive map of where beached oil has been spotted, as well as where designated important bird areas and breeding pairs of bird species are located based on 2013 census data. [Audubon]
• The long-term impact of the spill on Galveston Bay is unclear. [Al Jazeera America]
• 10 birds in local habitat that could be affected. [Buzzfeed Community]
• Wildlife responders care for oiled birds that have been captured. [CBS Houston]
• Houston shipping channel has reopened to traffic. [Dallas Morning News]
• All of this news comes on the heels of the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill. Shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in pristine Prince William Sound, Alaska, home to over 200 bird species. Twenty-five years later, three members of International Bird Rescue’s emergency response team look back on their experiences in this short film for IBR. [Vimeo]
• National Public Radio takes a look at how Exxon Valdez affected local fishermen. [NPR]
• Op-ed: In Prince William Sound, an ecosystem forever changed. [CNN]
• Op-ed: The plight of the pelican in California. [Los Angeles Times]
• US Fish & Wildlife adds the Prairie Chicken to the list of threatened species; backlash predictably ensues. [Fox News]
• Eradication of an invasive plant is paying off on Hawaii’s Midway Island, where albatrosses nesting on native grasses fare much better than nests on nonnative Verbesina. [West Hawaii News]
• The elusive Black Rail may adapt better than you’d think. [Bay Nature]
Tweets of the week:
— Oceanwire (@Oceanwire) March 28, 2014
This just in: whooping crane sightings popping up in Wisconsin! pic.twitter.com/y6Shp81cXn
— Madison Audubon (@MadisonAudubon) March 27, 2014
— MotherNatureNetwork (@MotherNatureNet) March 26, 2014
— BirdRescue.org (@IntBirdRescue) March 26, 2014
One reason Exxon Valdez still traumatizes is that plenty of oil remains along shores, continuing to toxify animals. http://t.co/7wk64zG8Us
— Carl Safina (@carlsafina) March 25, 2014
— TNC Science (@nature_brains) March 24, 2014
In recent days, we’ve received many inquiries from International Bird Rescue supporters on the oil spill in the Port of Houston near Galveston, Texas. Our colleagues in Texas are currently caring for oiled wildlife from this spill event, which we know has affected several species of birds. International Bird Rescue’s response team has not been activated on this spill at this time, though we are ready to lend our support in efforts if needed.
Let us know if you have any questions about oiled wildlife response. We have over 40 years of experience and knowledge in this field and will respond to questions posed in this post (see comment box below). We’ve worked in the Gulf many times, and co-managed oiled wildlife efforts in four states during the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill.
Here’s the latest report we’ve seen on affected animals via the Houston Chronicle.
If you are in the affected area and see any oiled animals, please call 1-888-384-2000 to report your sighting. Thank you.
During 2013, we cared for a small number of owls, some brought to us contaminated by petroleum or other substances. Barn Owls, Western Screech Owls and a Great Horned Owl were all patients last year.
Recently, our Los Angeles center received the first owl of the year — a Great Horned Owl transferred from a partner wildlife organization. This bird had been captured in the San Gabriel River, contaminated with a clear substance on its chest and under its wings, rehabilitation technician Kelly Berry reports.
Our team washed the bird upon arrival and took photos of the process. We later transferred the owl to South Bay Wildlife, and we’re pleased to report the bird is living in a large flight aviary and will soon be released back to the San Gabriel River area.
We’re also proud to report that we’ve received band reports from owls cared for at our wildlife centers, including this recent sighting of a Burrowing Owl, released in Northern California and seen hundreds of miles north in Idaho.
Finally, here’s the owl, post-wash:
Related: Check out the Dawn Saves Wildlife webpage for more information on oiled wildlife care.
We’re not sure how this bird became oiled, but upon intake the bird was eating well and showed no other signs of injuries, volunteer coordinator Neil Uelman reports. Here, IBR’s L.A. center team gives the pelican a thorough wash on Friday with the help of Dawn dish soap.
Also last week, International Bird Rescue partnered with Audubon California urging federal officials to finalize a coordinate monitoring effort of Brown Pelicans, as they have done for birds such as Bald Eagles and American Peregrine Falcons following removal from the Endangered Species List (the pelican was removed five years ago). You can send a message to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by clicking here.
It seems we post about an oiled hawk every few weeks, and thus far 2014 is no exception. The rehab team at our Los Angeles center recently washed this Red-tailed Hawk, found at an area refinery covered in thick, black oil. Paul Berry took this fantastic photo from the wash procedure.
The hawk was transferred to South Bay Wildlife Rehab this past Thursday and fortunately did not suffer significant burns from the oil contamination, rehabilitation technician Kylie Clatterbuck reports.
While we normally care for aquatic birds, our team is equipped to handle many other species affected by contamination. Birds of prey we’ve cared for include Western Screech Owls and this Sharp-shinned Hawk that had been contaminated with glue trap material.
Check out more of our work to save oiled birds at Dawn Saves Wildlife.
In 2013, both our wildlife centers in California cared for a number of raptors that were either oiled or affected by other substances, such as glue trap material. Though International Bird Rescue primarily cares for aquatic birds, there are times when other animals that fall outside of our usual spectrum of species need our help — including birds of prey.
This beautiful Red-tailed Hawk is an adult female believed to be part of a breeding pair, and was found at Lake Casitas, near Ojai, CA. Following her wash, the hawk was transferred to a partner wildlife organization before being transported to the Ojai Raptor Center, where she is currently living in an outdoor flight aviary.
Update: This hawk was recently released back at the location where she was found. We’re hopeful she will rejoin her mate.
Thank you to Angela Woodside for taking these images of the hawk during the wash process in December.
With their haunting calls and beautiful breeding plumage, Common Loons are regular winter visitors to the Pacific Coast. And like other diving birds, they are susceptible to becoming oiled, whether by natural seepage or human-caused events.
Here, Dr. Rebecca Duerr and wildlife rehabilitators Kylie Clatterbuck (left) and Julie Skoglund of International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles center wash an oiled Common Loon found on Carpinteria State Beach in Southern California. This animal was transferred to us from a partner wildlife group and was about 70% oiled upon arrival. The loon was also suffering from minor burns around its hocks due to oil exposure.
Washing an awake and struggling loon can be extremely stressful for both the washers and the bird. Consequently, as shown here, we often wash loons under anesthesia.
But we’re pleased to report the loon is doing well, and was recently transferred to a warm water pool.
Photos by Diane Carter
International Bird Rescue blog: The loon and the lighthouse
In late July, International Bird Rescue sent response teams to Canada to assist in the capture and rehabilitation of animals impacted by a bitumen release at the Canadian Natural Resources Limited Primrose Project in northeastern Alberta. Our teams worked at two different sites: the lake where oiled wildlife were captured, and the rehabilitation center in Edmonton where the animals were washed and rehabilitated.
At the rehabilitation site, our team worked alongside The Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton and the Oiled Wildlife Society of British Columbia to rehabilitate the animals, including beavers, muskrats and many freshwater birds such as ducks, coots and grebes.
As the rehab facility was located about three hours from the spill site, logistics and transport of animals were a daily occurrence and an important component of this response.
The response ended in the first week of November when the weather became freezing and the likelihood of any product impacting animals was considered minuscule.
Below is the list of animals that we cared for in this response. — Jay Holcomb
Well, not quite. But the Rhinoceros Auklet gets its name for a reason.
Residents of the North Pacific, Rhinoceros Auklets (Cerorhinca monocerata) are also known as “Unicorn Puffins” for the small horn extension on their beaks, present in both males and females during breeding season (click here for a photo of this species during breeding). Like many seabirds, they are threatened by oil seeps and spills, including natural seepage off the Southern California coast. Unable to waterproof themselves, oiled birds often end up on popular public beaches.
That’s what happened to this Rhinoceros Auklet. We received the bird from a partner wildlife group after it was found oiled at Malibu’s famous Zuma Beach. After the auklet’s condition was stabilized, our Los Angeles center team washed a significant amount of oil off the bird. Without this process, oiled seabirds are unable to survive the cold temperatures of their ocean home.
This is just one of hundreds of oiled birds we care for every year — whether in California or beyond, including the Alberta tar sands, where an International Bird Rescue response team has spent months this year caring for animals affected by a bitumen release in a remote area.
Though this auklet may not know it (he’s far more concerned with the fish delivered to his pool during recovery), it’s your support that makes this work possible. Thank you!
And check out our new Rhinoceros Auklet adoption level at our bird adoptions page here. Adoptions are symbolic and represent how your donation can help International Bird Rescue’s work on behalf of aquatic birds worldwide. Your gift will be used where needed most to rescue and rehabilitate birds impacted by both natural and man-made threats, such as oil spills and algal blooms.
Photos by Bill Steinkamp