Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Patient of the Month

August 26, 2020

Seabirds in Distress: Penguin Look-alikes Showing Up On Northern California Beaches; 200 Common Murres Have Come Into Care

A surge of seabirds beaching themselves along Northern California is overwhelming International Bird Rescue’s wildlife center. This summer over 200 sick Common Murres have been rescued and come into care. The birds – which resemble penguins but are more closely related to puffins – need a tremendous amount of care and Bird Rescue is asking the public for support.

Dubbed “Bill Murray” for his Groundhog Day reference, this Common Murre, who was treated in 2015, was rescued and came back in care in August 2020. Photo: Isabel Luevano – International Bird Rescue

While seabird strandings are not unheard of, what is most concerning for the Bird Rescue team, is that mass murre beaching events are occurring more often in recent years. Back in 2015, there was a very troubling crisis with more than 460 murres being brought into care. Thus far, the season’s trend seems foreboding – as dozens of distressed murres are being brought into care almost daily this month at its San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center in Fairfield.  

In fact, one of the birds from the 2015 murre crisis was back in care again this summer.  This time, within a few days, he was restored to full strength as a breeding age male, helped to babysit some young birds in our pools, and was released healthy once again to the wild. The staff dubbed this murre “Bill Murray” for his Groundhog Day like return to our center at the same point in the year. 

Since June, adult and younger Common Murres have filled Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center. Photo: Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

This is the time of year when Common Murres fledge from their offshore breeding sites and typically wait out in the cold turbulent water for their parents to bring them food. However, when they’re starving, cold, or in distress, murres of any age will beach themselves on wide open shorelines. For a murre, sandy beaches are a refuge to rest and warm themselves after prolonged exposure in cold water. 

Young Common Murre vocalizes standing on pool haul out. Photo: Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

Just as human Californians are flocking to beaches in droves to cool themselves at the ocean’s edge – they are discovering penguin-like, black-and-white pelagic birds waddling and laying on the beach! The majority of the incoming murres seem to be beaching themselves on the Santa Cruz County coastline, but struggling murres have also been spotted at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, and as far north as Humboldt County. 

With its long-standing motto “Every Bird Matters”, International Bird Rescue cares for all waterbirds in distress. Their team is endeavoring to save and restore as many of those stranded individual animals to good health as they possibly can. During August, dozens of these birds have been arriving almost daily in need of Bird Rescue’s expertise.

At this time, avian and ocean scientists cannot be certain of the cause of this round of the murres’ struggles.  

What IS certain is that large numbers of live native penguin-lookalike seabirds are in need of help right now. Bird Rescue appeals to the compassion in everyone who values California’s wildlife and complex coastal ecosystems to contribute to the intense care for so many of these struggling seabirds. Murres require a lot of specialized care, including quality fish and deep recovery pools for rehabilitation, which is an expense burden for the non-profit agency.

One other thing that’s pretty heartwarming is that adult murres who are in care at Bird Rescue tend to behave like foster parents to any fledgling murres sharing their recovery pools at the specialized avian facilities at Bird Rescue. Their voices are very endearing as they call out to each other. People can watch adults and young swimming together on the webcam at Bird Rescue.

Support Bird Rescue’s work with a donation.

https://www.bird-rescue.org/get-involved/donate
June 23, 2020

Patient of the Month: Western Gull

Western Gull seabird caught in fishing line

After swallowing a fishing hook a Western Gull awaits rescue at the harbor jetty in Half Moon Bay. Photo courtesy Bart Selby

A severely injured Western Gull, that was originally entangled and trapped by discarded fishing line and tackle, is back in the wild after heroic surgery and treatment by International Bird Rescue.

X-ray showing fish hook stuck in the Western Gull esophagus, right near the bird’s heart

X-ray shows fish hook stuck in Western Gull’s esophagus, right near the bird’s heart.

The Western Gull was spotted May 18, 2020 on the breakwater in Half Moon Bay, ensnared by fishing gear. Luckily, a local kayaker, Bart Selby, spotted the helpless bird on his way out to do a Brown Pelican survey around Pillar Point Harbor. He immediately took action and enlisted the help of nearby wardens from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to rescue the injured bird. It was critical the bird was captured quickly because in its entangled state, it was doomed to drown when the tide came in. From his kayak, Mr. Selby coached the warden, who was gingerly standing on the slippery rocks, as they carefully secured the gull with a towel and cut the fishing line that had been tethering the bird to the rocks. Were it not for the intervention of these valiant rescuers, the gull would certainly have died.

The gull was transported to the Peninsula Humane Society Wildlife Center for stabilization before being transferred to International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center in Fairfield, CA for surgery to remove the hook that was lodged deep inside the bird.

Our team found that the hook was lodged in one of the worst spots in the esophagus, right near the bird’s heart (see radiograph). When a fish hook pokes through the wall of the esophagus at this area, it very often skewers the aorta or even the heart itself and the bird can bleed to death from the tip of the hook lacerating these irreplaceable structures.

The gull’s neck was opened to get to the hook wedged in the esophagus. Photo: Dr. Rebecca Duerr – International Bird Rescue

Unfortunately, the line had been swallowed, which meant the hook couldn’t be retrieved without surgery. So, on May 20, Dr. Rebecca Duerr, Director of Research & Veterinary Science, did just that, choosing the least invasive approach for extraction. She cut into the esophagus at the base of the neck. According to Dr Duerr, the surgery was quite nerve-wracking as the bird had an extremely abnormal heart rhythm as soon as she began to gently manipulate the hook. In addition, none of the instruments were quite long enough to both secure the hook and allow it to be moved out of the stretchy esophagus wall. Nevertheless, our wildlife clinic team was able to pull the bird through this tough procedure and successfully remove the hook, leaving the bird with just a small incision to heal in his neck.

The male gull healed fabulously and fast, and flew perfectly as soon as we put him into the center’s large outdoor aviary. Our team wanted to get him back to his mate as soon as possible. So, as soon as his skin incision healed, we arranged for release back at Half Moon Bay on June 5th. We hope he was reunited with his mate and may be working on producing the next generation of Western Gulls, and we hope he stays away from fishing gear!

Note: a high percentage of the rescued water birds that come into our clinics have been injured by fishing line and tackle injuries. The high cost of repairing these serious injuries is borne by Bird Rescue. Your generosity gives these wild birds a second chance. Please Donate now.

Whenever you’re near the water, please pick up and remove any stray fishing line and tackle from the environment to eliminate this menace for wildlife. Encourage fishermen to avoid casting into areas with birds visible in the water.

After life-saving surgery to remove a fishing hook, the Western Gull was released at Pillar Point Harbor. Photo: Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

April 2, 2020

Patient in Focus: Brown Pelican 0A2

Brown Pelican spreads its wings in care at International Bird Rescue

After 95 days in treatment for a wing fracture, Brown Pelican 0A2 was released back to the wild. Photo: Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

The Long Road to Recovery

Late last month we released a young Brown Pelican who came to us in 2019! This bird was found in Half Moon Bay, CA, in December standing around looking dazed on a beach, ignoring dogs running up to him. After his rescue, he was brought to our San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center for care. Radiographs showed this bird had suffered a wing fracture – the ulna.

The pelican’s radiograph (x-ray) shows the (ulna) wing fracture.

Sometimes fractures of the ulna in birds can be successfully treated with splints and wraps, but due to previous experience with pelicans recovering from ulna fractures, Bird Rescue’s veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr opted to place orthopedic pins and two external fixators, securing the fracture site from two different angles.

Pinning can reduce the probability that a bird will develop range of motion problems in their wing joints as a result of a prolonged time in a wrap. Pinned wings are generally kept wrapped only for the first few days, then the bird can have the wing unrestrained for the duration of healing, which lets them wiggle and move and keep their joints in good shape. This pelican patient then had a long road to recovery ahead under the expert care of our rehabilitation technicians, needing to fully regain the strength in its wing to be able to survive again in the wild.

For this pelican’s ulna fracture, our veterinarian placed orthopedic pins and two external fixators to its wing. Photo: Dr Rebecca Duerr – International Bird Rescue

Bird bones generally heal much faster than mammals – after just 3 weeks, the ulna had healed and the pins were removed. Although he did not have any range of motion problems in his joints, the wing was very weak. Once he was ready, we moved him to our pelican aviary where he could bathe and preen, and start exercising by swimming. When birds bathe, they vigorously move all the muscles and joints of the chest, shoulders, and wings, and this provides amazing exercise for a bird recovering from a wing injury.

Once he began flying, we could see he was flapping asymmetrically with the formerly broken wing not extending fully with each flap, but thankfully this improved with practice. Due to the large size of our pelican aviary, we are able to see when a pelican is not flying normally or is compensating for a mobility deficit. We could see that as his flight strength and coordination improved, he persisted in leaning his head to one side when flying. As plunge-divers, Brown Pelicans have a very athletically intense way of catching dinner in the wild; consequently, we kept him for more exercise until his flight normalized. We want every bird we release to be as able-bodied as wild birds that never had a health crisis, so that they have the best possible chance of leading a long wild life.

After 94 days in care, he was finally ready for us to put bands on his legs and say Good Bye and Happy Fishing to Blue Band 0A2!

Before heading out for release, Brown Pelican 0A2 has final photos taken with James Manzolillo, Bird Rescue rehabilitation tech. Photo: Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

March 6, 2020

Meet Ralph: A Bird with Peculiarities

“Ralph” earned his name for this Northern Fulmar’s propensity to vomit as self defense. Photos by Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

We’re seeing a lot of fulmars in care lately (more about this below). These pelagic birds (often confused with gulls) have some, well, peculiarities—chief among them being their “special” reaction to anything they perceive as a threat, which, unfortunately, includes humans who attempt to help them. How exactly do they protect themselves? By projectile-vomiting a stinky orange liquid straight at the perceived enemy. Watch this semi-gross video!

That brings us to one particular fulmar we’ve recently taken into care. He started off being identified by his temporary leg band, Yellow-119. But he’s become popular with our followers, who have suggested different names for him based on his spewing abilities. He’s now been dubbed “Ralph”—a name we get a chuckle out of, and one that’s a lot better than some of the other terms for vomiting that have been offered!

Hungry Fulmars need to eat. Won’t you help? Donate here

Ralph is a “light morph” Northern Fulmar that came into care in late February after he beached himself in Monterey. Staff and volunteers have watched as he’s gained some weight (despite barfing and thereby losing some grams along the way!), stabilized, and begun eating well. And staff and volunteers have also learned not to take it personally when Ralph spews orange-colored stinky stuff (disgusting orange Kool-Aid?) their way.

Another “peculiarity” of fulmars is their beak, which is a bit different – some followers have asked whether Ralph’s beak is broken. Rest assured, it is not broken. Fulmars are members of the tubenose family, which have evolved a special gland to remove the excess salt that builds up from all their ocean-going feeding frenzies. That odd-looking part of the beak is where salt is secreted.

Ralph is one of more than 30 Northern Fulmars that have come into care at our two California wildlife hospitals since the start of this year. All of them have arrived hungry, anemic, and underweight, and most have had trouble thermoregulating. The critical hospital care we provide involves thermal support to warm them, fluid therapy, and tube feedings until they are well enough to eat on their own. According to our friends at beach-watch organizations, they’re finding increasingly more dead fulmars on area beaches, the reason for which is not yet known. Read more

Your donations enable us to continue saving birds’ lives. We are ever grateful to those of you who help us feed and provide needed care for seabirds so that they can be returned to their natural lives.

Northern Fulmar “Ralph” enjoys some outdoor pool time at the San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center. He’s gaining weight and hopefully limiting his barfing.

 

February 7, 2020

Success Stories: White Pelican Back In The Wild After Months in Care

This American White Pelican is a survivor. He was released at McNabney Marsh in Martinez, CA. Photo: Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

After 143 days in care this resilient American White Pelican is back in the wild.

This huge bird came into care in September 2019 and it was finally released last week. He was originally found in Santa Rosa, CA with a smelly, infected, open fracture of the wingtip. It was treated at our San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center

On examination, we found a deep tunnel full of infected material open to the fracture zone. On radiographs, we could see that the bones were shattered right next to the proximal metacarpophalangeal joint. Two wingtip bones that are normally fused were not only broken free of each other, but had infected debris in the space between them.

White Pelican wing tip x-ray

Initially, clinic staff and veterinarian focused on getting the infection under control while simultaneously stabilizing the fracture with a splint/bandage combination. Infected tissue was removed under anesthesia, and the wound healed very well. Unfortunately, the bones did not fuse to each other like they need to do in order for the bird to fly. The bird had what is called a non-union, where fragments of bone persist in staying separate, and this non-union is one our vet had not encountered before. Consequently, she decided to try pinning it, inserting threaded cross pins in an ‘X’ pattern to force the two bones to be immobilized in relation to each other. Thankfully it worked.

After the pins were removed, our staff had to help this patient regain strength in its wings to prepare for release. White pelicans can be a bit difficult to get to fly in an aviary even when there is nothing wrong with their wings, and this bird was no exception. He just didn’t want to cooperate. So for this bird, Wildlife Center Manager Isabel Luevano made his physical therapy progress a personal priority and several times a week made him flap strongly while being safely supported in hand, and then would boost him over the pool, thus encouraging him to fly and land on the water; no small feat with a huge bird. All of the hard work by staff and volunteers paid off!

During recovery, the White Pelican received generous pool therapy at the San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center. Photo: Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

 

November 27, 2019

Patient of the Month: Laysan Albatross

A Laysan Albatross that arrived into care at our San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center is our patient of the month. The bird was originally found at Marina State Beach and transferred to us by our friends at Monterey Bay SPCA.

After stabilization, the Laysan Albatross had its dirty feathers washed. Photos and video by Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

On arrival, the albatross was alarmingly underweight, very anemic, weak, and dehydrated. The intake exam found multiple wounds and swelling on the birds feet and that the patient was unable to stand. The bird is very small in stature for a Laysan Albatross, so is likely a female. She had two discrete abscesses at the bottom of her painful foot, hence we started her on antibiotics and pain medications. After several days of intensive care, the bird was strong enough for us to treat her foot abscesses and take radiographs to check for skeletal or internal abnormalities. Our veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca Duerr, reviewed the radiographs and had a few important findings: the abscesses thankfully did not appear to involve the bones of the foot joint, plus she had two fractures, one of the tibiotarsus (the longest of the 3 leg bone in birds) literally at the knee and another fracture of the fibula. Bloodwork showed her to have substantial muscle damage and an elevated white blood cell count.

In the last few weeks she has made remarkable progress, going from 1359 grams to ~2000 grams. Her leg is still weak and the fractures have been slow to heal, but the foot abscesses have resolved. The anemia has largely resolved, and she has transitioned to living in a large outdoor pool during the day, and indoors at night in a beach-like sand-bottom pen. In the pool, our staff created a submerged “island” for this special patient, giving her a place to float with the weight off her leg while being able to stand in a semi-supported way. At night she can rest on sand like she would if she were on an island.

The albatross’ improvement these past few weeks has been amazing to see, and has been driven by our staff’s constant communication and shifting care decisions that keep her moving in the right direction towards recovery. Although she is not out of the woods yet and our vet has concerns about her ability to eventually walk comfortably considering the nature of the knee injury, her improvement so far has been remarkable. We hope this beautiful bird continues to heal and will soon be able to return to her natural home in the wild!

If you would like to support this bird’s care, please consider a donation to Bird Rescue.