Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Oiled Wildlife

September 16, 2014

2015 – Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conference

EOW Save the Date
Save the date, fellow bird rescuers! Along with our partners at Aiuká, we’re hosting the next Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conference in Anchorage, Alaska on May 18-22, 2015.

Information on panelists, paper submissions and more will be found in the coming weeks at eowconference.org.

May 10, 2014

In Los Angeles, another oiled pelican joins the ranks of patients in care

BRPEOiled pelican in Malibu, photo by Blake Krikorian

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.

photo 4

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

Blue-Banded Pelican Project

April 15, 2014

Contaminated pelican the latest among string of oiled birds at Los Angeles center

BRPE Oiled 3-L
Photos by Kelly Berry

BRPEOur 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.)

BRPE Oiled 2-L

Oiled BRPE 5-L

BRPE Oiled 6-X2

BRPE Oiled 8-L

Pelican Partners

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

Blue-Banded Pelican Project


March 28, 2014

The week in bird news, March 28

A victim of the Galveston Bay oil spill, photo by Chase A. Fountain, © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

• 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 BlighExxon_valdez_aground 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:






March 26, 2014

Wildlife experts save birds in Texas spill

Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife wildlife biologist Andy Tirpak collecting a Royal Tern on the east beach in Galveston. Photo by Chase A. Fountain, © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

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.

March 3, 2014

Patient of the week: Great Horned Owl

Preparing a Great Horned Owl for a wash to remove contaminationGHOW, photos by Jennifer Gummerman

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.

February 11, 2014

Oiled Brown Pelican, found in a South Bay parking lot

Oiled BRPE 4-L
Oiled Brown Pelican, photo by Diane Carter

BRPELast week, our Los Angeles center received an oiled Brown Pelican found wandering in a Torrance parking lot and picked up by the city’s animal control after it was unable to fly away.

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.

Oiled BRPE 6-L

Oiled BRPE 2-L

February 4, 2014

In Los Angeles, another oiled hawk is rescued

Photo by Paul Berry

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 RTHAcenter 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.

Related posts:

In care this week: Red-tailed Hawk
Hawk and owl patients at our SF Bay center

January 2, 2014

A Red-tailed Hawk readies for reunion with mate

Photos by Angela Woodside

RTHAIn 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.







December 11, 2013

Washing an oiled loon


COLOWith 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




Further reading:

Common Loon profile on AllAboutBirds.org

International Bird Rescue blog: The loon and the lighthouse

KQED: East Bay Regional Parks rescue injured loon, cared for at International Bird Rescue

December 2, 2013

An update on our response work in Alberta


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.

MAPAt 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

Rehabilitation Data Report




November 15, 2013

Our patient of the week is … a rhinoceros?

Auklet, Rhinoceros IMG_3081-L

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’sAucklet, Rhinoceros IMG_2022-M 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!

AukletAnd 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

Aucklet, Rhinoceros IMG_2098-L

October 7, 2013

Red-tailed Hawk wash

Diana Pereira (left) and Julie Skoglund prepare to wash an oiled Red-tailed Hawk, photos by Dave Weeshoff


Last week, our Los Angeles center team washed an oiled Red-tailed Hawk, which was lightly sedated to minimize stress on the animal during the procedure. A photo of this wash posted to our Facebook page has become one of the most popular posts thus far this fall. Below are some additional photos of the process by Dave Weeshoff.

While we normally deal with oiled/contaminated aquatic birds, our team is equipped to handle many other species as well. For example, nearly a year ago our Los Angeles center washed this Sharp-shinned Hawk that had been contaminated with glue trap material.

Thank you to our friends at Dawn Saves Wildlife for their generous support of International Bird Rescue and oiled wildlife around the world. This hawk has since been transferred to a partner wildlife organization for further rehabilitation.





RTHA-Julie Skoglund
The hawk post-wash, photo by Julie Skoglund

Related posts:

In care this week: Red-tailed Hawk

Hawk and owl patients at our SF Bay center

October 27, 2011

Sweaters on oiled penguins?

Little Blue Penguin cared for during the Rena Spill in New Zealand, 2011. Photo: Curt Clumpner

Update, 3/6/14: Every so often, the “sweaters on oiled penguins” story resurfaces in the media. “Does this work?” invariably we’re asked about using knit sweaters to keep birds warm and to prevent the preening of oiled feathers. Here’s our answer from International Bird Rescue executive director Jay Holcomb in 2011, following the Rena Oil Spill in New Zealand that affected Little Blue Penguins. The bottom line: While cute, penguin sweaters may do more harm than good to oiled birds.


Many of you have probably seen articles about using specially fitted sweaters made specifically for oiled penguins. This concept has come to the forefront again because of the large number of Little Blue Penguins that have been oiled in the Rena spill in New Zealand. International Bird Rescue has worked on a number of spills with four species of penguins. Each time someone asks us why we are not putting sweaters on penguins. The answer is the same for any bird, but let’s focus on penguins right now.

The intent of the sweaters is to keep the birds warm and reduce the amount of oil that they might ingest when preening. When birds are oiled, they lose their natural ability to thermoregulate. That’s because the oil sticks birds’ down and contour feathers together, temporarily impairing the ability to use these feathers to maintain body temperature.

Additionally, there are many different types of oil, and many contain irritating and toxic components. It’s common to see skin burns and irritation on birds that have heavy oil on their feathers. The last thing we want to do is to put something over their feathers that causes the oil to be pressed against their skin, or impairs the evaporation of the aromatics put off by the oil. Penguins and other birds can also overheat very quickly, and the sweaters increase this risk.

To help the birds stay warm and limit the amount of preening, we only have to do one thing — house birds in a warm, ventilated area. When birds are warm, they reduce their preening because they’re comfortable. When they’re cold, they’re stimulated to preen in an attempt to correct the loss of body heat. Our research and experience over the course of hundreds of spills has shown us that when we keep them warm while they are still oiled, birds do well.

There’s also another hazard to the sweater concept: Any handling or wearing of anything foreign to them contributes to the penguins’ stress. Reducing stress is our biggest challenge in an oil spill. Sweaters can be cumbersome, and require a secure fit to ensure that the bird will not become entangled. When birds are kept in warm rooms without sweaters, their stress is reduced, because they do not need to be monitored or handled.

In the Treasure oil spill in 2000 in Cape Town, South Africa, International Bird Rescue worked with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) to rehabilitate over 20,000 oiled African Penguins; we successfully released 95% of them. In every oil spill where we have cared for penguins, International Bird Rescue has had at least an 80% release rate, and none of these birds wore sweaters.

Our colleagues from around the world agree that penguin sweaters are adorable and offer an avenue for concerned people to contribute, but they are not considered a useful tool for the rehabilitation of oiled birds, primarily penguins.

Jay Holcomb
Executive Director
International Bird Rescue


Photo right: One of the penguins being cared for at the wildlife rehabilitation facility set up at Tauranga. Image credit: Maritime New Zealand

June 20, 2010

2010 – Gulf spill response: FAQs

Oiled Pelicans before cleaning and after during 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

Oiled Pelicans before and after cleaning during wildlife response at 2010 Gulf Oil Spill.

From IBRRC’s Jay Holcomb, who is at the center of the BP Gulf oiled bird response in Louisiana:

We are almost into July and have just taken in our 600th bird here in Louisiana at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center. The majority of those birds have come into the center in the last 2 weeks when a section of oil was carried to shore near Grand Isle, LA and impacted many brown pelicans and other smaller bird species.


Cleaning oiled pelicans at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center.

Currently we have about 300 clean and beautiful brown pelicans outside in large cages getting ready for release. They are starting to be released today in groups and we will continue to release them twice a week until they are all gone. There are currently about 100 oiled pelicans in the building waiting to be washed and some smaller species of birds such as gulls and herons.

The heat here is very difficult to work in but everyone is doing well and moving the birds through the rehabilitation process. We have set up specific times for the media to come and film the birds and the work so that it limits the stress on people and animals. The media has been very cooperative with us.

I play a few roles here in Ft. Jackson and one is the External Affairs role that puts me in touch with the media and the world at large so I thought I would take this opportunity to answer some of the main questions that I am being asked daily.

Question: Where the pelicans are going to be released?

Answer: The pelicans are being flown to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Will they come back to Louisiana? There is that possibility but the US Fish & Wildlife Service has determined that this is the best place to release them at this time. It is a long way from the spill so we are hoping that they stay in the area, at least for a while. The smaller inland birds are being released in the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area just north of Lafayette as they become ready.

Q: How long is IBRRC and Tri-State Bird Rescue going to be in the Gulf of Mexico helping care for the birds?

A: Well, as long as the oil is gushing from the earth and birds are at risk of getting oiled then we will be here.

Q: Is BP supporting your efforts to care for the oiled birds?

A: Yes, BP is the responsible party and is paying for all the costs associated with the care and rehabilitation of oiled birds. IBRRC and Tri-State Bird Rescue are hired to manage the rehabilitation program for the oiled birds from this spill so in actuality we are contractors for BP.

Q: What will the success rate be for oiled brown pelicans?

A: It’s impossible to predict the future but these are very healthy and strong birds and have a good chance at surviving the rehabilitation process. The majority of these birds are handling the stress of oiling, washing and rehabilitation extremely well, as expected. Over 300 of them have been cleaned and are in outside aviaries at this time getting ready for release. Brown pelicans typically have a high survival rate in oil spills when they are captured early on and given the appropriate care, as has happened here to date. I expect the majority of them to make it but time will tell and we will report on these birds as we move through the spill.

See also: Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill detailed wildlife reports

Q: How can people help or donate?

A: Well, as I have said before, we currently have plenty of help and are not in need of volunteers. As well as the Tri-State and IBRRC response teams, wildlife paraprofessionals from the Gulf Coast States are supplementing our workforce. In Louisiana, this is being coordinated by LSART (Louisiana State Animal Response Team).

Regarding donating to the cause, there are pelicans and thousands of other wild animals all over the country that need help and are cared for by wildlife rehabilitators. I urge everyone to locate their local wildlife rehabilitation organization and support them and their great work in helping our precious wildlife get a second chance at life. Check with your state department of Fish and Game and they can help you locate a worthy wildlife rehabilitation organization.

Beware of the NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) that claim they are raising money to help either restore the gulf or set up mass volunteer networks for spill response. Everyone wants a piece of this pie and a number of these groups who have never done much about oil spill response in the past are now asking for money, holding fundraising events, telethons etc. and using many tactics including celebrity endorsement and the media. They are opportunistic and take advantage of every oil spill or big disaster and I strongly urge you just to be cautious. Before you donate ask how and where your money will be spent before you give.

Again, the real unsung and under-funded heroes who help wildlife around this country are the wildlife rehabilitation organizations who work 24/7 to care for our precious wildlife. They are hands on, on the front lines and the results of their efforts can be witnessed every time they release a rehabilitated animal back into the wild. My strong suggestion is that you support these organizations if you really want to help wildlife!

Thanks for visiting our blog. I will be in touch soon with more news and to answer more questions and share more pictures.

– Jay Holcomb, Executive Director, IBRRC


International Bird Rescue Response Teams starting working in Gulf Coast within days of the Deepwater Horizon well blow out on April 20, 2010. With nearly 40 years of experience on more than 200 spills, IBRRC brings a wide variety of skills working with oiled wildlife.

Photo cleaning Roseate Spoonbill at Gulf Oil Spill in 2010 by International Bird Rescue

Response team members clean a Roseate Spoonbill of oil at Fort Jackson Center, Louisiana. Courtesy photo: © Brian Epstein