Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Posts Tagged ‘rescue’

March 21, 2017

Know Your Gulls: A Very Basic Guide To Identifying Our Local Gulls

By Joanna Chin

Anyone can identify a gull, but did you know that there are over 50 species of gulls worldwide? And do you know which gull species live near you, and how to tell them apart?

March is Gull Month at International Bird Rescue, and we think a good way to celebrate this month is to learn how to identify some of our local gull species! We’re going to look only at adult plumage here, since all gulls have juvenile plumages that can make identification tricky for even the most experienced of birders. We’ll start with the basics of five gull species in California.

Please note that there are more than five species of gulls in the state, but the ones we’re going to concentrate on are some of the more common and distinctive. If you are interested in more gull information, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has wonderful information on the family Laridae (which includes gulls and their close relatives, terns and skimmers)!

Western Gull

Female Western Gull does the “head-toss” motion to signal to her mate. Photo by Byron Chin

The Western Gull is one of the most common gull species on the California coast. It is a large gull with a fairly dark gray back, black primaries (the feathers at the tips of the wings), pink feet, a yellow orbital ring (the narrow ring of flesh around the eye), and a sturdy yellow bill with a bright red spot on the mandible (lower half of the bill) called the gonydeal spot. This red dot serves a special purpose: It’s a target that the gull chicks peck at to entice the adult to regurgitate food for them. Although very common along the coast, Western Gulls are rarely seen more than two miles inland. These gulls do not migrate, and their appearance does not change during breeding season.

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull is lighter grey than Western. Photo by Byron Chin

The Glaucous-winged Gull looks a lot like the Western Gull until you look carefully! For one thing, the Glaucous-winged Gull’s back is a much lighter gray. Also, this gull has no black at all—the primaries (wingtips) are the same light gray as its back— and both its legs and its orbital ring are pink. Like the Western Gull, The Glaucous-winged Gull has a yellow bill with a red gonydeal spot. These birds breed along the northern Pacific Coast but head down the coast in the wintertime. You will often see them with some brown speckling on their head in the winter (something you’ll never see on a Western Gull). But just to make things complicated, Glaucous-winged Gulls hybridize with Western Gulls, producing a gull that looks somewhat like each of them! This happens frequently enough that these hybrids, which are common on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, have their own name: the Olympic Gull.

California Gull

California Gull tends to be smaller than the Western or Glaucous-winged. Photo by Byron Chin

The California Gull travels farther inland than either the Western or Glaucous-winged Gull. It tends to hang out in parking lots, as well as near the coast. It is smaller than the Western or Glaucous-winged and has a medium-gray back with black primaries, yellow-green legs, and a red orbital ring. Its eye is very dark (much darker, in fact, than the Ring-billed Gull I’ll discuss in a moment), it has a red gonydeal spot on the mandible of its bill, and it has a black ring near the tip of its bill. The corners of its mouth turn downward a bit, giving it a distinctive “frowning” expression! Like the Glaucous-winged Gull, the California Gull has brown speckling on its head in winter.

Ring-billed Gull

A Ring-billed Gull and a dozen cohorts. Photo by Byron Chin

The Ring-billed Gull lives in California during the winter (non-breeding) season and migrates to the northern U.S. and Canada during the summer to breed. It is just slightly smaller than the California Gull and has a medium-gray back, black primaries, bright yellow legs, and a red orbital ring. It also has bright yellow irises, giving the Ring-billed Gull a very “beady-eyed” appearance. Its bill is yellow with a thick black ring around it, and there is no red whatsoever. In winter, when this gull is in California, it has the brown speckling on its head. Like the California Gull, the Ring-billed Gull is found on the coast, as well as farther inland and in parking lots.

Heermann’s Gull

Heermann’s Gull takes flight in Monterey, CA. Photo by Byron Chin

The Heermann’s Gull is unlike any other gull you’ll find in California. It winters in the state but migrates to Isla Rasa, a small island in the Sea of Cortez near Baja, California, every summer to breed. In breeding plumage, the Heermann’s Gull’s back is dark gray, the remainder of its body is light gray, its primaries are black, and its head is pure white. It has black legs, a red orbital ring, and a red bill with a black tip. In the winter, when this gull returns from breeding, its head is heavily speckled with gray. Heermann’s Gulls are known to employ a feeding strategy called kleptoparasitism, which means they steal food from other birds, most commonly the Brown Pelican. Sometimes they are seen landing on a pelican’s head and reaching right into its pouch to steal fish! The Heermann’s Gull is, unfortunately, quite susceptible to climate change. Because it nests almost exclusively on a small island in the Pacific Ocean, events such as El Niño and “the Blob” (an unusually large mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean) can reduce the supply of food and influence breeding success. In fact, the Heermann’s Gull has had near total breeding failure for the past two years. Conservation efforts and swift action to slow climate change are critical to preserving this gorgeous species.

Share Your Gull Photos

Do you have a good picture of a gull, tern, jaeger, or a skimmer to share? Submit your photos to gulls@bird-rescue.org, including your name, the species and where the photo was taken, and you may see your photo soon on our social media.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more beautiful photos of gulls, terns, jaegers, and skimmers!

 

August 4, 2011

Every Toad Matters Too

International Bird Rescue has been working on the oil spill in the Yellowstone River in Montana for a month now. To date we have received 59 animals:  an American Robin, a Cooper’s Hawk, a Yellow Warbler, a Canadian Goose, 6 Western Terrestrial Garter Snakes, a Bullfrog, a Leopard Frog, and 47 Woodhouse’s Toads.

So why all the toads?
Toads and frogs abound in and around the Yellowstone River. Frogs stay within the watery and moist areas along the river banks, but toads seem to be everywhere – in fields, on sand bars, on the roads, in our washing tent, in our boots – everywhere. There are thousands of baby toads covering the ground, so many that you have to constantly watch your step in order to avoid squishing them. Many came from eggs in ponds that were away from the riverbed and were more or less secure when the rushing waters rose. We thought that many toads along the riverbed had been washed away in the flood, but the more we visit islands in the river that were previously inaccessible to us, the more we recognize how much we underestimated the toads’ ability to adapt.

About two weeks ago, we observed adult and thumbnail-sized baby toads on some of the islands that had been completely underwater. The current had been too strong for toads to swim to these islands. We concluded that the toads had been underground or were able to burry into the logjams of trees, branches and other debris, until the water receded and the environment suited them.

The receding waters left small pools with surface oil and oily mud around heavily oiled logjams. As the land becomes drier, the logjams and the puddles are an attractive place for toads. Although crews are cleaning up oiled debris in these hot spots very quickly, some toads were oiled as they foraged. There remains a considerable amount of land to cover, and we continue to monitor these areas and collect any wildlife in need.

How do you wash a toad or frog?
The process of washing an amphibian is easier than that for washing a bird because you are cleaning skin not feathers. We use a very light solution of Dawn in tepid water. A toad is submerged up to its neck, and we use our fingertips to wash off the oil just as you would do if you were washing your hands. For oil around the face and eyes we use a Waterpik, cotton swabs and our fingertips to loosen the oil. The toad is then rinsed and allowed to swim in fresh water for a short time to rinse off any additional soap. It is released in a clean and suitable toad area. All of the oiled amphibians in this spill have been healthy and viable animals, and all have been released in the same day that they came to us.

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue


March 22, 2011

Catastrophic South Atlantic Oil Spill Threatens Endangered Rockhopper Penguins

Hello everyone,

There has been a catastrophic oil spill on a remote island in the mid-South Atlantic Ocean that is threatening an entire colony of endangered Northern Rockhopper Penguins.

The MS Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island, one of three islands of the Tristan da Cunha group, on March 16, 2011. All 22 crew were rescued before the ship broke up and leaked oil into the sea. The freighter was shipping soya beans from Rio de Janeiro to Singapore. It is said to be also carrying 1,650 tons of heavy crude oil.

Nightingale Island is regarded as one of the world’s most important wildlife habitats. The island is home to 40% of the world’s population of Northern Rockhopper Penguins (photo, above), and about 20,000 have already been confirmed oiled.

There are species of albatross, petrels and shearwaters that nest on these islands. However, all of the reports of oiled birds have been about the penguins. The likely reason for this is that many of the flighted bird species fly out to sea before landing on water, thereby avoiding the oil along the coastline. Since the penguins are not flighted, they have to swim through it to get to the islands, making them the most vulnerable and highly impacted.

IBRRC’s colleagues at The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) are leading bird rescue and rehabilitation efforts and will soon be en-route. You may remember that IBRRC has worked with SANCCOB in four different oil spills in Cape Town, South Africa. Most notably, in the Apollo Sea oil spill in 1995 we helped care for 10,000 oiled African Penguins, and during the 2000 Treasure oil spill we helped manage the rehabilitation of another 20,000.


View Larger Map

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the current Northern Rockhopper Penguin population in the Tristan da Cunha island group is estimated 18-27,000 at Inaccessible Island, 3,200-4,500 at Tristan. Nightingale and Middle Islands were estimated to support 125,000 pairs in the 1970s, but recent observations suggest that the main colony on Nightingale has decreased in size.

Logistics are difficult at best. An old fishing factory will be used as a rehab center. There is limited water, and no airport, so supplies are either air-dropped there or are brought by ship every few months or so. All people must arrive by ship, and it takes 4 days to get there from Cape Town, South Africa. Many of the birds have been oiled for over a week, which limits their chances of survival. The birds cannot be removed from the islands and brought to the mainland due to disease transmission concerns.

IBRRC has been in touch with SANCCOB and, along with other leading international wildlife groups, is providing support by phone as their team prepares to mobilize. SANCCOB’s team will be arriving at the islands on Sunday, March 27th, and has asked IBRRC’s trained and experienced team to be prepared to offer support. There are 300 people living on Tristan Island, and 100 of them are available to help with the penguins.

This is a truly grave situation for the Rockhopper Penguin colony and the ultimate challenge for wildlife rehabilitators. SANCCOB is the most experienced penguin rehabilitation organization in the world and we have full confidence in their ability to set up the best possible program for these birds. IBRRC’s team is coming together, and will send help when asked, and continue to support the SANCCOB team as needed. We will keep you updated as we receive information.

Jay Holcomb

Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC)

More information:

Atlantic oil spill threatens endangered penguins:
Seattle Times

Locals helping roundup penguins on Nightingale Island

Tristan da Cunha, the Loneliest Island on Earth

Photo: Northern Rockhopper Penguin at Berlin Zoological Garden, Germany, used by via Creative Commons