Contaminated Loons Caught by Storm Call for Experienced Crew

Staff uses small sponge to carefully clean a Common Loon’s face during a wash. Photos by Ariana Gastelum – International Bird Rescue

Common Loons were among 24 waterbirds that were admitted into care after the recent storms in California starting January 13. They were covered in petroleum oil from natural seep, a natural leak of crude oil and gas that migrates up through the seafloor and ocean depths during storms. Despite their dirty feathers, these birds are at a healthy weight and have minimal injuries. That being said – they’re a handful!

Wild adult birds are typically resistant to receiving care, and a healthy loon is no exception. The moment they are uncovered from their pen, staff prepare for these large birds to lunge at their faces as a defensive response.

Loons often projectile release large and reeking feces the moment they are picked up, forcing handlers to change their clothes sometimes multiple times a day if they are not careful. Consequently, several more loads of laundry are added to the pile.

Volunteer Carol Soloski and wildlife technician Kadi Erickson rinse Common Loon after a thorough wash.

Loons require at least two handlers because they are so strong. Unlike most birds, they have solid bones. The extra weight helps them dive deep underwater. Additionally, they are expert swimmers with powerful kicks, making them difficult to keep still during treatments. Washing a contaminated Common Loon can easily take twice as long as other birds because they are much more difficult to control – especially with slippery soap in the mix!

Despite these challenges, the rewards are worth it. It’s enchanting to hear the variety of their distinct and eerie calls. Loons often vocalize during a swim in one of the pelagic pools and to each other when brought inside to dry. The call of a loon is one of their most well-known characteristics and often people’s first introduction to the species.

Common Loons serve as indicators of lake ecosystem health due to their sensitivity to disturbance and their need for pristine habitat. As these birds navigate a changing world, Bird Rescue is committed to helping them through obstacles such as contamination from natural seep. You can help support their recovery by “adopting” a loon in rehab.