International Bird Rescue celebrates 50 years of wildlife protection
On January 18, 1971, two Standard Oil Company tankers collided in San Francisco Bay. The result was an oil spill that covered 50 miles of coastline and around 7,000 birds. To contain the oil spill and save the birds, a wave of “men in blue overalls and young people with long hair blowing in the wind” volunteered to help, according to a report from the San Francisco Examiner.
“I think it will pollute the whole world,” said Jonathan Alba, 7, as he “covered his face with his little hands”.
The tragic event sparked the birth of International Bird Rescue, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last weekend with a virtual Groovy Gathering. Over the past half-century, the organization has helped save and rehabilitate 125,000 birds on six continents. These efforts include responding to 230 oil spills, helping wildlife contaminated with the San Francisco Bay Mystery Goo in 2015, repairing severed pockets of brown pelicans, and saving herons and egrets. nesters after a massive tree crashed onto the sidewalk in downtown Oakland.
But the research and practices developed by Bird Rescue benefit wildlife beyond these headline-grabbing events. Fifty years ago, people did not know how to rehabilitate oil-covered birds, and only about 300 were eventually released following the 1971 spill. Today, thanks to the dedicated research and work of its staff and its volunteers, Bird Rescue can overcome a variety of challenges and help us all better protect wildlife.
Joanna Chin, a local volunteer for over eight years, remembers a woman who brought an injured western gull to the San Francisco Bay Wildlife Center in Fairfield. The bird was found on the hood of a car, wrapped in Taco Bell packaging. Apparently someone had hit the seagull and was hoping it would disappear. After receiving anti-inflammatory drugs, food, and rest, the gull was healthy enough to be released after just six days.
Bird Rescue has also helped one brown pelican in particular on four occasions with various ailments including sea lion bites and head injuries. New research has found that pelicans cannot metabolize anti-inflammatories, so the care this injury-prone bird receives is personalized to the species. Without this research, well-meaning staff and volunteers could unintentionally injure the pelican and impact the population.
“An individual really matters,” Chin told me. “Seabirds are unusual in the animal world because they live long enough and have a slow reproductive system. When you rescue an individual and they return to the breeding population, it makes a huge difference overall. “
It is hoped that the massive oil spills that sparked the birth of International Bird Rescue will become tragedies of the past as climate change forces the world away from fossil fuels. But Chin’s experiences show the need for continued care and research. As long as we drive and let litter down our streets, birds and other animals are likely to suffer. San Franciscans should avoid cars when cycling, walking, and scootering, when possible, and ensure that trash is thrown in the trash.
San Franciscans should also raise awareness of our interactions with wildlife and nature. Recently, a brown pelican from Crissy Field wowed viewers by standing still for selfies. What people didn’t realize was that he had tar on his chest and was getting weaker and weaker. When the pelican was finally brought to Bird Rescue, it was too weak to survive. Knowing how to spot an animal in distress and alert rescuers is essential to protect it.
“I think Bird Rescue came into being because there was a problem that didn’t have a solution,” JD Bergeron, executive director of the organization, told me. “The challenges birds face are limitless and we will continue to bring the best research, widely share resources, and be ready to move on to the next unresolved problem.”
And there are many unresolved issues facing the planet, including our continued dependence on climate change that causes fossil fuels, plastic pollution, and extreme declines in biodiversity. It would be better to put an end to the habits causing such destruction. But until then, we’ll need all the “men in blue overalls and long-haired hippies” ready to help the planet for the next generation.
Robyn Purchia is an environmental lawyer, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and cuddles in trees in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her perspective is not necessarily that of The Examiner. Find out at robynpurchia.com.
BirdsenvironmentOil and gasSan Francisco