American White Pelican – Photo by Sandrine Biziaux
Second to oil spills, fishing hook injuries present prominently in our patients, reminding us of the negative human impact on the birds for which we care. Fishing hooks are commonly discarded or left behind in coastal regions, resulting in a devastating amount of injuries to wildlife. Not only do the remnants of the hooks puncture muscles, joints, bones, and tear flesh, but the lines attached to these hooks get wrapped around the necks, legs, and bodies of birds.
Often a bird will not only suffer injuries from the gear itself but will acquire additional injuries from thrashing around to free itself. Struggling while entangled in line can result in broken bones, lacerations, and dislocations. The American White Pelican pictured above had a hook embedded in its foot, as well as a fractured lower left bill, several lacerations on its neck and foot, and a fish hook wound at the tip of the mandible.
This particular pelican found its way to Bird Rescue through the help of numerous wonderful organizations and caring individuals including our friends at the Sea and Sage Audubon Society at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, and the Newport Beach Police and Animal Controls Departments. As is the case with many of the birds that we treat at Bird Rescue, we are grateful to be an integral part of such a large and caring group of individuals striving to mitigate the impacts of humans on wildlife.
#2: Common Murre
Common Murre – Photo by Cheryl Reynolds
From April to August each year Bird Rescue booms with new life, as our wildlife centers fill to the brim with thousands of baby birds. When nesting season is at its height, we see an extreme influx of orphaned, injured, and starving baby aquatic birds. Affectionately referred to as, “baby bird season,” this hectic time of year is both challenging and rewarding. Last year, between our Greater Los Angeles and our San Francisco Bay-Delta wildlife centers, Bird Rescue treated more than 2,100 baby birds in need.
Baby birds are particularly vulnerable to disturbances, and if they get rustled from their nests too early, their chances of survival are meager. With an increase in human disturbances to nesting sites and an increase in non-native predators, young birds are often at an unfair advantage when it comes to getting a good start.
It is for this reason that Bird of the Year candidate number 2 is one of our most well-loved orphaned baby birds. Affectionately named “Tugboat” after a Facebook fan commented that he “looked like a little Tugboat”, the adorable Common Murre who came to us with a fractured wing last July, was a memorable patient for us as well as for many others who followed and rooted for his recovery. Tugboat was brought to us from our friends at Wild Care after being found inside a bag at the Stinson Beach Community Center. The young murre was with us for a little over two months and was eventually released alongside another Common Murre in-care, at Fort Baker in Sausalito, California.
Bird Rescue along with other wildlife rehabilitation centers play an essential role in this very busy season. While our centers remain full of hungry chicks who need constant feeding and tending to, we are happy to do our part in rearing these young birds so that they may one day return to the wild. Watching orphans like Tugboat grow up in our care and get released is just one of the many reasons that we do the work that we do!
#3: Pacific Loon
Pacific Loon – Photo by Katrina Plummer
In April and May of 2017, the Bird Rescue Greater Los Angeles Center received a sudden influx of loon patients. In that two-month period, 145 loons were admitted, more than 20 at a time on some days. Of the three different species of loons affected, the vast majority of these patients were the beautiful Pacific Loon.
These birds were found beached all along the Southern California coast. Countless more birds washed up on shore, already deceased. The sudden die-off is suspected to have been caused by Domoic Acid (DA) poisoning from a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB), and a number of our cases were confirmed by blood test. DA affects the brains of animals, often causing seizures, disorientation, and death.
While these algal blooms are naturally occurring events, this year it had a particularly heavy impact on the loons. These birds are especially difficult to care for, so Bird Rescue had to kick things into high gear to handle so many high-risk patients. Extra volunteers came in to help care for the birds and, along with staff, worked long hours to make sure that each bird received the care it needed. In the end, IBR was able to successfully release 36% of the loons that came into care during the height of the event.
Domoic Acid infected Loons treated at Los Angeles Center
|Admitted April 2017 – May 2017
#4: Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican – Photo by Bart Selby
This iconic California bird was once federally listed as an endangered species. After 36 years of conservation efforts, the Brown Pelican was officially delisted in 2009. Since this time, International Bird Rescue has been placing uniquely numbered blue bands on each Brown Pelican that gets released from either of our California centers. The Blue-banded Pelican Program was created as a concerted effort to increase the number of pelican sightings of our rehabilitated birds, which provides us with valuable information we can apply towards our research.
The Blue-banded Pelican program is part of our Research and Education program at Bird Rescue, which is one of our core programs within the organization. Since implementing this program, Bird Rescue has banded over 1,200 Brown Pelicans. In 2017 alone there have been 111 blue-banded Brown Pelican sightings reported directly to the organization, and this is just the preliminary count pending a final tally (which is expected to add another couple of hundred). The Brown Pelican featured as contender number 3 in our “Bird of the Year” contest is a stellar example of the possibilities that this program offers.
The above picture of Brown Pelican “E17”, named after the unique number located on his blue band, was taken last summer nesting with two babies off the coast of Baja California. The pelican, who was released seven years ago from our Greater Los Angeles wildlife center, is a sign of hope for us that our rehabilitation efforts are paying off. While banded pelicans have previously been sighted foraging and migrating, this is the first ever sighting of one of our banded pelicans breeding in the wild. “The sighting of E17 is a confirmation of our work,” said JD Bergeron, Executive Director. “To see a former patient rejoining the breeding population is an encouraging sign of the success of our efforts and a reminder of the importance of wildlife rehabilitation.”
Note: The sighting occurred off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, on San Jeronimo Island by Emmanuel Miramontes, a biologist working with a Mexican nonprofit organization GECI A.C. (Group of Ecology and Conservation of Islands). San Jeronimo is more than 300 miles from E17’s release point in San Pedro, CA.
#5: Virginia Rail
Virginia Rail – Photo by Cheryl Reynolds
Over the past few years, we’ve seen an influx of these secretive freshwater marsh rails at both of our centers. The Virginia Rail used to be a relatively rare bird for us at Bird Rescue, and while we don’t exactly see a flood of these sweet little birds, we are seeing more of them than we have in years past. In 2017, we saw 20 Virginia Rails at Bird Rescue, compared to a total of 7 rails in 2012. Whenever we see numbers like this rise in our clinics, it inevitably leads to the question – why?
Although we can’t say for sure why we are seeing more of these quirky little birds, we can’t help but wonder if it has something to do with the habitat that they live in, and the challenges that freshwater marshes face. Though freshwater wetlands offer a myriad of ecosystem services as well as provide habitat for numerous species of wildlife, these precious ecosystems are under constant threat in our developing world. The University of California at Santa Barbara estimates that over 90% of the freshwater marshes in California have been destroyed due to draining, filling, or the crowding out by non-native species.
As an organization that specializes in aquatic birds, the plight of freshwater habitat degradation deeply concerns us. As Bird Rescue moves into the year 2018, we look forward continuing to honor our original mission while also addressing the ever-increasing threats to seabirds such as marine debris, habitat disturbance, political threats and the impacts of climate change.
#6: Western Grebe
Western Grebe – Photo by Katrina Plummer
This little Western Grebe is contender #6 in our Bird of the Year contest. She came to us after becoming contaminated with oil from a natural oil seep while she was migrating south along the coast of California. This is a very common occurrence during the winter months especially off the Ventura and Santa Barbara coastlines, and Bird Rescue takes in dozens of similar affected grebes each year.
What makes this bird special is that the records of her care and progress will be used as part of a scientific study being conducted by the Bird Rescue team. The study aims to learn more about toe, hock, and keel lesions that can affect species such as this one when they are in rehabilitative care. In the wild, Western Grebes spend all of their time in the water, so their anatomy is specifically suited to those conditions. When in care, their delicate feet and legs can easily develop lesions which are greatly exacerbated if the bird is contaminated with oil. The severity of these lesions can make the difference between life and death for a patient.
The data gathered from this study will be used to develop improved practices to better care for these unique birds. With this bird’s help, and the help from many other birds like her, Bird Rescue will be able to improve the care of grebes, scoters, and murres at both their rehabilitation centers.