Up for a wash: At our Los Angeles center, a busy day with oiled seabirds

An oiled Common Murre up for a wash. Photos and video by Bill Steinkamp, all rights reserved.

On a recent afternoon, a team of staff and volunteers at International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles wildlife care center had their hands full with oiled Common Murres and Western Grebes in need of a wash. Over the past few years, the center has seen an increase in the number of oiled seabirds such as Common Murres affected in part by natural seepage off the coast.

When a bird becomes oiled, its feathers can mat and separate, exposing the animal’s sensitive skin to temperature extremes. After collection, each oiled bird is stabilized, which includes nutrition, hydration, and medical treatment before it is considered for a wash, as unstable birds may die from the resulting stress of the procedure. Once stable, an oiled bird goes through a series of tub washes with a low concentration of DAWN dishwashing liquid in clean water.

After washing, the bird is taken to a separate rinsing area where a special nozzle is used to completely rinse the solution, as any detergent or solution left on its feathers can impair waterproofing. The bird is then placed in a protective, net-bottomed pen equipped with commercial pet grooming dryers, where it will begin to preen its feathers back into place. A tight overlapping pattern of the feathers creates a natural waterproof seal, which enables the bird to maintain its body temperature and remain buoyant in the water.

Post-wash, rehabilitation staff closely monitor a bird’s waterproofing as it recovers in warm and then cold water pools.

Bill Steinkamp, one of our volunteer photographers, took these wonderful photographs of the hard work required to treat these animals.

COMU1-Bill Steinkamp

COMU2-Bill Steinkamp


COMU8-Bill Steinkamp

WEGR3-Bill Steinkamp


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COMU5-Bill Steinkamp