Every Bird Matters
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Oiled Wildlife

June 2, 2015

2015 – Refugio Pipeline Spill


Ray of Hope In A Sea Of Dread: Washed,
Clean Brown Pelicans in Outdoor Aviary



After being cleaned of oil, Brown Pelicans recuperate in an outside aviary (above) at our San Pedro, CA center. Photos by Kylie Clatterbuck

Two weeks after oiled seabirds from the Refugio Oil Incident began arriving into our San Pedro Center, many have been washed and are now recuperating in two large outside bird aviaries.

Most of the birds in care are California Brown Pelicans. These are majestic birds with a height of more than 4 feet, weighing upwards of 11 pounds (5000 g) and with a wingspan 6+ feet.

At least 40 Brown Pelicans are in care and upwards of 36 have been washed of the oil that coated their wings after a pipeline burst at Refugio State Beach on May 19th.

Other bird species in care include Western Gulls, Western Grebes, Common Murres, a Surf Scoter, and a Pacific Loon.

As of Wednesday night, June 3, search and collection teams have rescued 58 live birds and 42 live marine mammals. Dead animals collected included 115 seabirds and 58 mammals.

Oil has severe and delirious effect on a bird’s feathers. It mats feathers & separates the tiny barbs impairing waterproofing, exposing birds to temperature extremes. In this emergency situation, the bird will focus on preening (cleaning feathers) – overriding all other natural behaviors, including evading predators and feeding, making the bird vulnerable to secondary health problems such as severe weight loss, anemia and dehydration. See: How Oil Affects Birds

A 24-inch underground pipeline burst about 20 miles NW of Santa Barbara. At least 100,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from the broken pipe, including an estimated 21,000 gallons that washed into a storm drain and flowed out to the Pacific Ocean.

As a member of California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network our wildlife responders were activated to help with search and collection and treatment and washing of affected seabirds. Our center in San Pedro near the Los Angeles Harbor is fully staffed with multiple washing stations and two aviaries – one that is large flight aviary.

Animal numbers are updated each day and available on the OWCN blog: http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/owcn/

Photo oiled Peilcan at International Bird Rescue

Wildlife responders from International Bird Rescue clean oiled Brown Pelican. Photo: Joseph Proudman – UC Davis

May 27, 2015

Number of Oiled Seabirds Continues To Rise from Refugio Oil Pipeline Rupture


Using a toothbrush, IBR staff and volunteers clean an oiled California Brown Pelican at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in San Pedro, CA. Photo by Bill Steinkamp – International Bird Rescue

Photo oiled Peilcan at International Bird Rescue

Wildlife responders from International Bird Rescue clean oiled Brown Pelican. Photo: Joseph Proudman – UC Davis

As the numbers of oiled animals affected by the Refugio Oil Incident continues to climb, our Los Angeles Center is ground zero for treating oil coated seabirds. At least 20 seabirds are now in care at the center in San Pedro, CA

International Bird Rescue (IBR) also has teams in the field assisting the search and collection of oiled wildlife in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.

“The birds that we’ve seen so far have come in completely coated with oil,”  Dr. Christine Fiorello, an Oiled Wildlife Care Network veterinarian told the media at a press conference last week. “They can’t move. They can’t forage. They can’t fly. They can’t dive. So yeah, they would die pretty rapidly if they were not cleaned.”

Most of the birds captured on beaches are Brown Pelicans – large seabirds that have the strength and fortitude to survive the thick gooey crude. Many smaller seabirds may have perished in the thick gunk.

Serverly oiled Brown Pelican brought to San Pedro Center. Photo by Kylie Clatterbuck – International Bird Rescue

Serverly oiled Brown Pelican brought to San Pedro Center. Photo by Kylie Clatterbuck – International Bird Rescue

A week ago Tuesday morning May 19, a 24-inch underground pipeline burst near Refugio State Beach about 20 miles NW of Santa Barbara. About 100,000 gallons of crude oil, specifically Las Flores Canyon OCS (Outer Continental Shelf), spilled into a culvert that led to the Pacific Ocean.

As a member of California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network we are providing the best possible care to impacted wildlife. IBR has over 44 years of experience working on oil spill all over the world. See our history

As of Wednesday evening May 27th, a total of 57 seabirds have been collected – 39 alive and 18 dead. There have been 32 total mammals collected with 22 rescued alive and 10 found dead.

Washing oiled Pelican at San Pedro Center. IBR photo

Washing oiled Pelicans at San Pedro Center. IBR photo

The affected birds are being taken to Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network and stabilized before being transported for further care and washing at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center.

All oiled mammals including elephant seals and sea lions are being treated and washed at SeaWorld in San Diego location. SeaWorld is also a member of the OWCN.

Animal numbers are updated each day and available on the OWCN blog: http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/owcn/

Please don’t pickup or try to clean oiled seabirds. The oil is toxic to you and the stress of trying to clean wildlife without proper stabilization and care may do more harm than good. We ask the public to call 1-877-UCD-OWCN to report oiled wildlife.

Note to volunteers: Please don’t contact our very busy San Pedro clinic during this response. Our staff, OWCN members and our trained volunteers are handling the care of these oiled seabirds. 

You can still help in other ways: Please visit the CalSpillWatch website to register as volunteer for other needs on this spill response.

Photo of Oiled Brown Pelicans at International Bird Rescue - OWCN in San Pedro, CA

Most of the oiled seabirds rescued were California Brown Pelicans. Photo by Kylie Clatterbuck – International Bird Rescue

Photo cleaned Brown Pelicans at International Bird Rescue

After cleaning Brown Pelicans rescued at the Refugio Oil Spill in Santa Barbara County. Photo by Kylie Clatterbuck – International Bird Rescue

March 27, 2015

Laysan Albatross Long, Greasy Ride to Freedom

Laysan-Albatross-2-webA Laysan Albatross who hitched a ride on a west coast bound container ship is now safely in care at our Los Angeles center.

Laysan Albatross was cleaned of grease after being stuck on a container ship for at least 10 days.

Laysan Albatross was cleaned of grease after being stuck on a container ship for at least 10 days.

The seabird was emaciated and dehydrated when it was rescued on March 21st. It was also trapped between containers for at least 10 days on a ship enroute to the Port of Long Beach.

To add to its predicament, the Albatross was also found to be contaminated by grease and had a bathtub ring of oil around its chest. The bird was cleaned of grease at our center in San Pedro.

Over the last two days the bird has received supportive care (IV fluids and oral nutritional tubings). This week the bird is gaining weight and will soon be released back to the wild.

Laysan Albatross are frequent stowaways on container ships that travel the ocean highways. They have often been spotted resting or even building nests aboard these vessels.

Read more on these wandering seabirds of the high seas:

Albatross: Looking for Land in All the Wrong Places

Double stowaway: Laysan Albatross catches a ride on container ship and a pickup





November 19, 2014

Postcard from Brazil: Celebrating Aiuká’s new (and stunning) oiled wildlife rehabilitation center

Magellanic_penguin,_Valdes_Peninsula,_eMagellanic Penguin via Wikimedia Commons

If you had followed around the late International Bird Rescue executive director Jay Holcomb long enough, chances were BrazilMapyou would’ve meet some fabulous friends and colleagues from around the globe.

A legend in the world of saving animals harmed by oil spills, Jay was always eager to share his decades of field experience with the next generation of wildlife rescuers.

So perhaps it’s fitting that the finest oiled marine animal rehabilitation facility in South America has just been dedicated in his memory.

On Tuesday, Aiuká, a Brazilian wildlife emergency response team founded by veterinarians Valeria Ruoppolo, Rodolfo Silva and Claudia Nascimento, celebrated the grand opening of their new center in Praia Grande, located on the Atlantic coast about an hour south of São Paulo. It’s a stunning facility, perhaps deserving of the nickname “palácio dos pinguins” (palace of the penguins).

During the opening event, Aiuká’s founding partners, along with International Bird Rescue marketing and communications director Andrew Harmon, unveiled a silver plaque dedicating the center to Jay and his legacy. (You can view a slideshow of photos from the new center and the opening event below.)

Ruoppolo and Silva first met Jay and our global response team at a wildlife conference in 2000. Since then, Aiuká has been part of the International Bird Rescue Response Team through IFAW and worked with us all over the world, from the 2000 Treasure Spill in South Africa to the 2008 Patagonia Spill in Argentina. Ruoppolo, Silva and their staff have became dear friends and wonderful members of International Bird Rescue’s extended family.

Jay-plaque-AiukaAiuká’s nearly 7,000-square-foot facility can care for 300 oiled birds, two marine mammals and up to 30 sea turtles. The main floor has stations for every element of an oiled animal’s care, from intake to washing, drying and outdoor rehabilitation. The outside pools even have narrow, angular ramps leading up to water’s edge for Aiuká’s most common patient, the Magellanic Penguin (see above).

This species, which migrates from winter breeding grounds in Patagonia to feed in Uruguay and southern Brazil, are frequently affected by small oil spills (mostly of unknown origin) along the coast.

Aiuká is rapidly expanding to serve the response needs of Brazil and neighboring countries. We couldn’t be prouder, and we are honored to be their partner in Tier 3 response for severe spill emergencies. Our organizations are also co-hosts for the 12th Effects of Oil on Wildlife Conference in Anchorage, Alaska this coming May.

An unexpected highlight of Aiuka’s grand opening celebration — two unexpected highlights, to be exact — were these baby wrens, nestled in a small hole above the wash station, and almost ready to fly.


November 7, 2014

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

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

November 5, 2014

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

Photo by Brian Epstein

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

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

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

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

Mortality Study

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

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

multinational oil and gas company

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

September 24, 2014

A new aviary at our San Francisco Bay center


Snowy Egret, photo by Cheryl Reynolds

Good news for the birds of California and beyond!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 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