Cleaning and rehabilitating oiled birds for release can be a long process – Orange County Register
The process of cleaning up a bird caught in an oil spill can be stressful, so after three days of monitoring, a vet performed an initial exam on Friday of one of seven Western Snow Plovers found on the sand in Huntington Beach to see what the lifeguards were up against. .
Dr Jamie Sherman, in UC Davis town, held the little sand-colored bird and carefully stretched its wings and plucked its feathers, looking for oil and skin irritation. The endangered bird was carefully covered with a small white cloth during the process to minimize stress. His big eyes only pointed a few times.
“Sounds good,” she said, placing the plover back in its cage.
The procedure is one of the first contacts that experts at the International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in San Pedro will have with the sea and shorebirds rescued from last weekend’s oil spill, which sent thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean and onto beaches and wetlands along the Orange County coast.
Teams of trained experts from the Oiled Wildlife Care Center, headquartered at UC Davis, and custodians from the Department of Fish and Wildlife scoured beaches, tidal pools, marshes and wetlands in search of oiled animals. As of Thursday’s count, 35 birds had been found. Ten were dead.
While experts say the number of birds found so far is lower than feared, conservationists fear more may be seen in the following weeks. There are also no estimates yet of the number of fish, marine mammals and other creatures that may have died in the spill.
The rehabilitation process will be extended from the time the birds are found on the ground, admitted to the San Pedro center, and then hopefully recover enough to be released. Most are first stabilized at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach.
A key part is keeping them as stress-free as possible, the experts said. While it is important to discover birds early, treatment to remove the sticky, poisonous oil often does not begin until 48 hours after their discovery.
Once at the San Pedro center, experts trained in removing oil from wildlife get to work after tests and examinations show the birds can withstand more treatment.
The oil removal work is done in a relatively quick process – samples are taken first for any spill investigation.
Dawn soap is the cleanser of choice, although sometimes this is not enough and pre-treatment is necessary. The process takes about 20 minutes. The birds pass through several tanks; each contains a different strength of the soap solution.
The final rinse is also critical as removing all the soap restores the waterproofness of the birds. The feathers work like a wetsuit to help them maintain a core temperature of around 102-105 degrees.
“It’s a very intensive process,” said Dr Michael Ziccardi, Director of OWCC. “It’s an art, not a science.
In all, it can take about 45 minutes.
“We think it’s the worst day of the bird’s life,” said JD Bergeron, executive director of International Bird Rescue.
After the washing process, it is essential to make sure that the birds are waterproof. The birds do this by performing “controlled swims” to make sure they can stay dry.
If they come back from their wet dips, they dry out and the process continues. Ziccardi said rehabilitating birds typically stay at the center for several weeks.
“When they’re 100% tight their blood test is normal and they behave normally for their species, so we take them out for release,” he said. “A tape is placed on them that lets us know how long the animals survive. We also keep animals until we are sure they will not be re-oiled.