Today marks the 45th anniversary of the oil spill that led directly to the creation of International Bird Rescue. On the early morning of January 19, 1971, two Standard Oil tankers, the Arizona Standard and the Oregon Standard, collided in foggy conditions near the Golden Gate Bridge. The ruptured tankers spilled at least 800,000 gallons of crude.
Among other terrible outcomes, the spill affected 7,000 birds. Volunteers collected nearly 4,300 of them, mainly Western Grebes and Surf Scoters, and brought them to makeshift rehabilitation centers.
Alice Berkner, the founder of Bird Rescue, remembers: “Here were about 16 different treatment centers scattered around the Bay Area. A friend of mine, who happened to be a veterinarian, asked me if I wanted to go to the hastily established Richmond Bird Center and help out.”
Only about 300 birds were successfully rehabilitated and released—in part given the lack of established rehabilitation practices for oiled birds at the time.
Jay Holcomb, Bird Rescue’s long-time director—who passed away in 2014—told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2012, “There were dying birds everywhere and no one knew what to do. It was as horrible as you can imagine,” said Holcomb. “It was then that we realized there needs to be an organized attempt for their care.”
“As long as I live I will never forget the odor that assaulted me as I walked through the doors of the Center,” said Berkner. “It was a horrendous mix of rotting fish, bird droppings, oil, and, strangely enough, Vitamin B.”
International Bird Rescue Research Center (now “International Bird Rescue” was hatched in April of 1971 in the “little red house” at Berkeley’s Aquatic Park. Since then, it has led oiled bird rescue efforts in over 220 oil spills in more than a dozen countries. In the 1990s, Bird Rescue became a founding partner in California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN).
Today, Bird Rescue runs two full-time bird rehabilitation centers in partnership with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) and OWCN, located in Fairfield and San Pedro, as well as an as-needed oiled wildlife response facility in Anchorage, Alaska.
“From an environmental tragedy 45 years ago, Bird Rescue was born to deliver on the promise of mitigating the human impact on seabirds and other aquatic species through response, rehabilitation, and research,” said current Executive Director JD Bergeron. “And our 45th year promises to bring continued excellence in response and rehabilitation, as well as renewed focus on research, education, and outreach, especially to children, the next generation of wildlife and nature stewards.”