Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Posts Tagged ‘spill’

October 27, 2011

Sweaters on oiled penguins?

Little Blue Penguin cared for during the Rena Spill in New Zealand, 2011. Photo: Curt Clumpner

Update, 3/6/14: Every so often, the “sweaters on oiled penguins” story resurfaces in the media. “Does this work?” invariably we’re asked about using knit sweaters to keep birds warm and to prevent the preening of oiled feathers. Here’s our answer from International Bird Rescue executive director Jay Holcomb in 2011, following the Rena Oil Spill in New Zealand that affected Little Blue Penguins. The bottom line: While cute, penguin sweaters may do more harm than good to oiled birds.


Many of you have probably seen articles about using specially fitted sweaters made specifically for oiled penguins. This concept has come to the forefront again because of the large number of Little Blue Penguins that have been oiled in the Rena spill in New Zealand. International Bird Rescue has worked on a number of spills with four species of penguins. Each time someone asks us why we are not putting sweaters on penguins. The answer is the same for any bird, but let’s focus on penguins right now.

The intent of the sweaters is to keep the birds warm and reduce the amount of oil that they might ingest when preening. When birds are oiled, they lose their natural ability to thermoregulate. That’s because the oil sticks birds’ down and contour feathers together, temporarily impairing the ability to use these feathers to maintain body temperature.

Additionally, there are many different types of oil, and many contain irritating and toxic components. It’s common to see skin burns and irritation on birds that have heavy oil on their feathers. The last thing we want to do is to put something over their feathers that causes the oil to be pressed against their skin, or impairs the evaporation of the aromatics put off by the oil. Penguins and other birds can also overheat very quickly, and the sweaters increase this risk.

To help the birds stay warm and limit the amount of preening, we only have to do one thing — house birds in a warm, ventilated area. When birds are warm, they reduce their preening because they’re comfortable. When they’re cold, they’re stimulated to preen in an attempt to correct the loss of body heat. Our research and experience over the course of hundreds of spills has shown us that when we keep them warm while they are still oiled, birds do well.

There’s also another hazard to the sweater concept: Any handling or wearing of anything foreign to them contributes to the penguins’ stress. Reducing stress is our biggest challenge in an oil spill. Sweaters can be cumbersome, and require a secure fit to ensure that the bird will not become entangled. When birds are kept in warm rooms without sweaters, their stress is reduced, because they do not need to be monitored or handled.

In the Treasure oil spill in 2000 in Cape Town, South Africa, International Bird Rescue worked with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) to rehabilitate over 20,000 oiled African Penguins; we successfully released 95% of them. In every oil spill where we have cared for penguins, International Bird Rescue has had at least an 80% release rate, and none of these birds wore sweaters.

Our colleagues from around the world agree that penguin sweaters are adorable and offer an avenue for concerned people to contribute, but they are not considered a useful tool for the rehabilitation of oiled birds, primarily penguins.

Jay Holcomb
Executive Director
International Bird Rescue


Photo right: One of the penguins being cared for at the wildlife rehabilitation facility set up at Tauranga. Image credit: Maritime New Zealand

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

April 30, 2010

Response team: On the ground in the gulf

The IBRRC Team arrived in Louisiana today. Our team is working in partnership with Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research. Our organizations have a long history of working together on oil spills.

Together, our team has begun setting up a rehabilitation facility in a warehouse in Fort Jackson, LA just north of Venice about 70 miles from New Orleans.

There has only been one oiled bird recovered so far, a young Northern Gannet, which is being treated at the Fort Jackson rescue center. The bird was covered in thick, black oil and found offshore.

Another center is being set-up in Theodore, Alabama and staff from Tri-State Bird Rescue and International Bird Rescue are there beginning to set things up.

There are existing oiled bird treatment trailers in the area that were funded by Clean Gulf and Chevron so these are also being set-up to assist with stabilization of animals if necessary.

As of right now our teams are very much focused on preparing these facilities.

There is still not a great need for volunteers at this time as there is only one bird in care. Remember, if you are interested in volunteering you must call the Volunteer hotline at 1 866-448-5816.

And a big thank you to our partner, Procter & Gamble Co, who is sending 50 cases of Dawn dishwashing liquid to both centers. Dawn has supported us for more than 20 years on efforts to save aquatic birds worldwide.

– Jay Holcomb, IBRRC Executive Director

Also see:

Times-Picayune: Updates on BP Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster

June 6, 2009

20 years later: Finding oil from Exxon Valdez

Time Magazine has a story worth reading on the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The piece chronicles scientists studying the remnants of the 11 million gallon spill in the Prince William Sound:

…Here, on Death Marsh, Mandy Lindberg, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Alaska’s Auke Bay, turns over a shovel of sand and broken rock to reveal a glistening pool of brackish oil. The crude can be chemically typed to the Exxon Valdez, and more oil can be found beneath the beach at Death Marsh and at a number of islands around the Sound. “I wouldn’t have possibly believed the oil would last this long,” says Lindberg. “Studying the spill has been a great learning experience, but if we had known in the years after the spill what we know now, we would have been looking for oil much earlier.”

See more: Still Digging Up Exxon Valdez Oil, 20 Years Later

IBRRC report of spill response: Crude awakening

December 11, 2008

Santa Barbara spill update: 3 oiled birds in care

According to the California’s Oiled Care Network (OWCN), three live oiled birds are now in care following the Sunday morning leak near a Santa Barbara Channel oil platform. (Photo above of Grebe: Erica Lander/IBRRC)

The birds are being treated at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in San Pedro. IBRRC co-manages this center as a member of OWCN. This is the OWCN’s largest oiled bird response facility in Southern California.

Greg Massey, OWCN Assistant Director, says:

“The birds are being given supportive care (food, fluids, and supplemental heat). We’ll monitor blood tests, body temperature and weight to determine when they are stable enough to be cleaned. This is a critical time for the birds as they begin to regain strength and fight the external and internal effects of oiling.”

IBRRC has three staff members in the Santa Barbara area assisting in the search and collection of oiled animals. Our organization is a proud member of OWCN, which is statewide collective of wildlife care providers and regional facilities interested in working with oil-affected wildlife.

Meantime, most of the spilled oil near Platform A has been cleaned up. A total of 1,400 gallons of oil (34 barrels) has been mopped up. Officials raised the amount of oil spilled since the December 7, 2008 incident. At one time the amount was reportedly 1,100 gallons. (Note: The standard oil barrel is 42 US gallons)

Platform A was the site of the massive January 29, 1969 oil spill. For eleven days, 3 million gallons of crude spewed out of the well, as oil workers struggled to cap the rupture.

Any injured wildlife should be reported to 877-823-6926.

Also see the new OWCN blog and website for more info.

December 1, 2008

Cosco Busan spill: What birds species were affected

In all the rush of news from the Cosco Busan spill, we neglected to post this “Bird Injury Summary” from the spill. It was collected by the government agencies involved in the spill.

The report shows the number and species of birds collected live and dead and includes a chart showing the bird collection numbers by day during the November 2007 spill.


• Highest number of affected species was the Surf Scoter at 766
• Next highest: Western Grebe at 404
• More than 200 birds were collected four days after the spill

Download the PDF here

November 17, 2007

Birds don’t get a break this month

They say things come in threes and this month it’s proving catastrophically true for oiled birds worldwide.

On the heels of the San Francisco Bay spill, this week a major spill hit the Black Sea area of Russia. Up to 30,000 birds are reported to be dead after an oil tanker leaked 560,000 gallons of oil into the sea. The tanker broke in half after encountering stormy seas. CNN Video Report

Two team members from our joint IBRRC/IFAW Emergency Response team are already on their way to help. See the IBRRC report

Closer to home, a spill of suspicious origins along Santa Cruz County beaches is causing concern. Dubbed the “Moss Landing Mystery Spill,” this spill has left nearly 100 birds tainted with a clear oily substance of unknown origins.

IBRRC’s San Pedro Bird Center was activated to handle the first wave of oiled birds. Since then the Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz has also started treating birds. See IBRRC update

November 17, 2007

Oil spill coverage: SF Chronicle

The San Francisco Chronicle staff has done a remarkable job covering the SF Bay Spill.

I recommend checking out the online version of its printed paper. Remember those? They cost 50 cents and used to get ink smudges everywhere. Until they switched to soy based inks…but I digress.

Spill coverage