This week, we’re truly putting our “Every Bird Matters” tagline into practice by responding to an oil contamination event that has affected animals on Alaska’s remote St. Lawrence Island.
Along with local villagers, federal and state officials have found a total of seven oiled seabirds and seals on the island, located in the Bering Sea (for more information, read this article in Wednesday’s Anchorage Daily News). Both the origin and type of oil is unknown and currently under investigation.
So far, one live oiled bird has been recovered: a juvenile Thick-billed Murre, which is currently being treated at our Alaska Wildlife Response Center (AWRC) in Anchorage. The AWRC was created in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and remains a vital resource for oiled bird rehabilitation in Alaska.
Thick-billed Murres are fascinating seabirds, nesting on rocky cliff faces and producing eggs that are pointed at one end to help prevent them from rolling off the ledges. Just three weeks after hatching, flightless chicks dive into the icy waters below and begin to swim for hundreds of miles. (Read more about this species here via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Alaska Region.)
This murre came to our center on November 10, and was stabilized and fed for a few days by IBR rehabilitator Julie Skoglund. It was washed on Tuesday, and is currently being waterproofed and living in one of our small rehab pools. We will return this bird back into the wild as soon as it meets its criteria for release, hopefully within a few days.
Though this mystery spill has produced only one live oiled bird thus far, we are prepared and equipped to handle more should they be found. Our job is to care for all birds harmed by human interaction. So, here we are in Alaska, helping a bird that otherwise may not have survived.
Meanwhile, in California, International Bird Rescue is currently caring for birds affected by natural oil seepage on the Pacific coast. Oiled birds include this large, male Western Grebe recently washed at our Los Angeles regional rehabilitation facility.
Update: This bird has been successfully rehabilitated and release. Click here for release photos.
Murre photos/video by Julie Skoglund.