50 Years Of Volunteer Spirit

Volunteers descended on oiled beaches in the San Francisco Bay Area in January 1971 to capture oiled birds and clean the affected shorelines.
Volunteers work with a oiled Brown Pelican in a makeshift response center during the 1971 spill.

The year was 1971. A gallon of gas cost 40 cents. Nixon was president.  The civil right’s movement from the previous decade galvanized as the spirit of activism was on the rise. Two years on from the summer of love, men’s and women’s hair was long. Bell bottom jeans were in vogue. And the Vietnam War was still raging, creating cultural unrest.

Read: How it all began

Just a year before, Earth Day, launched and celebrated by volunteers, was started to celebrate the environment and focus people on “ecology” issues facing the world. It helped capture the hearts and minds of an angry public eager to tackle worsening air quality and environmental degradation. People were just beginning to wake up to the fact that the Earth’s resources were not infinite and humanity’s impact wasn’t always a good thing for the natural world.

In the midst of this awakening, it hit. It – was a massive oil spill on San Francisco Bay. On January 18, 1971 two oil tankers collided in the fog spilling nearly a million gallons of crude. The swirling oil was pushed and pulled by the bay’s strong tides. It squeezed out through the Golden Gate Bridge area, coating beaches all the way south towards Pacifica and as far north to Marin County. Thousands of individuals from different walks of life jumped into action to help save the beaches and wildlife they loved.

As the oiled birds poured into makeshift centers, volunteers from all walks of life began the gruesome task of caring for the hundreds of oiled birds crowding into makeshift rescue centers around the bay. On stinky, oily beaches, old and young alike – some of them school age – rushed to use hay to soak of the crude.

Out of this remarkable volunteer effort, International Bird Rescue was born. Now celebrating its  50th year, the organization has relied on thousands of volunteers to assist in the countless tasks that come from caring for waterbirds in crisis at its two California wildlife centers – including the San Francisco Bay-Delta Center in Fairfield, CA. Each year more than 200 people volunteer yearly to help wildlife and train to prepare for the next unknown crisis.

Through training and year round rehabilitation, volunteers have become the backbone of Bird Rescue’s worldwide reputation. Interns from all over the world have learned from our wildlife care and taken those skills back to their home countries.

Thanks to Alice and her fellow nurses who led the charge to help pave a road of bird rescue where there was none. We’re proud of our volunteer spirit that was born all the way back in 1971!