A Tough Year For Birds

The numbers of birds affected by the Cosco Busan disaster and other factors continues to rise. “Every time we think we have a break, something starts up again,” said Jay Holcomb, Director of International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC). “The end of 2007 has been very hard on aquatic birds off the coast of Northern California, with a multitude of species being affected by oil as well as other issues, one of which we have never encountered before.”

Birds rescued from up and down the coast continue to arrive daily to The San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care & Education Center in Cordelia (SFBOWEC) a specialized rehabilitation facility for oiled birds that is managed by IBRRC. The reasons range from crude oiling to healthy adult birds that have lost their waterproofing due to a mysterious algae dying off and creating a slick on the water surface.

From tiny Snowy Plovers to Endangered Brown Pelicans, the number of species affected keeps climbing. How many birds have actually died will never be known because not all bodies are recovered and many are scavenged or taken out to sea on currents.

Over 40 species, including three endangered species, rarely seen pelagic birds like Fulmars, Rhinoceros Auklets and common coastal birds like Western and Clark’s Grebes have been brought to the SFOWCEC since November 7th when the first spill victims were rescued.

“We thought the domoic acid event off the coast of Southern California in April 2007 was bad; now that pales in comparison to this as far as the amount of live birds we have received,” said Holcomb. It’s been a tough year for both birds and wildlife rehabilitation experts alike.

Less followed in the news has been a mysterious event about one hundred miles south of San Francisco in the Moss Landing/Monterey Bay area. On November 10, Grebes, Surf Scoters, Loons and other near-shore birds began beaching themselves. Something on the surface of the water, possibly related to an algae bloom, caused the birds to loose their waterproofing. First thought to be a clear vegetable or fish oil, possibly dumped by a restaurant or boat, tests came back negative for oil.

As of today, 565 live birds and 82 dead birds have been logged in as “Moss Landing Mystery Spill.” Holcomb adds “To date 340 of these birds have been rehabilitated and released.”