Note: This is Jay Holcomb’s latest update from inside the bird rehabilitation center in Cordelia:
We currently have about 970 Live birds at the center and over 200 of them have made it to the pools and are reconditioning their feathers, eating and resting. By no means are they home free but they are 75% through the rehabilitation process.
People think it’s all about washing the birds. Well, that clearly is an important part of the process but the care they get prior to wash and after the wash is equally as important. I wanted to explain why the pool time is so important to these birds. Here we go.
Aquatic birds have the amazing ability to live in very cold climates. This is because they have an insulating coat of feathers that protects them from the elements. When they get oiled, the feathers matt and the birds are exposed to the cold. Their aquatic environment, the one thing that provided safety, now becomes the main factor that plays into their demise. They are forced to get out of the water and become vulnerable to predators and weather conditions. Hopefully they are captured and cared for by groups like IBRRC who have experience in doing this work.
Fast forward to the wash
When we wash the birds we remove all the petroleum from their feathers and they are 100% clean. They go from the wash tub to the rinse station and there the soap, in our case Dawn dishwashing liquid, is rinsed thoroughly out of their feathers. The most amazing thing happens. As we rinse the soap out of their feathers with high pressure nozzles, their feathers actually become dry. So in essence we are drying their feathers with clean hot water. Its pretty cool and we are always amazed at their feathers natural ability to repel water.
When the rinsing process is complete and all of the soap out of the feathers, the bird goes immediately into a drying pen. There the bird is dried with warm air from pet dryers. The same dryers used in grooming dogs. After the bird is 100% dry it goes into a pool and begins to swim, eat, bathe and preen its feathers. Each feather has microscopic barbs and barbule hookelets that are woven together during the preening process creating a water tight barrier and since the feathers are naturally repelling water, they all work together to provide an overall insulative barrier on the birds body like shingles on a roof.
Here is the biggest misconception: People think that we or the birds have to restore their natural oils. That is incorrect. Birds feathers are naturally waterproof as proven in the rinse. So, all the bird has to do is preen and get its feathers back in alignment and our job is to make sure the bird is clean and monitored while it is going through this process. The natural oils are really a conditioning agent that come from a gland at the base of the tail. Its called the uropygial gland and it aids in long term feather conditioning.
So, we move the birds in and out of the pools as they get their feathers aligned and become waterproof. Once they are waterproof and can stay in the pools then they are well on their way to release. They have to eat, rest. exercise, we need to monitor them for anemia, weight gain etc. but the waterproofing process is intense and I wanted to explain it as best I could so people understand a bit of the process.
Next time I will talk about the criteria we use for release of the birds.
Thanks everyone for your support and well wishes. We are grateful beyond words.
International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC)