One Western Grebe Improves Care For All

A storm-tossed Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) was admitted last month at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center.

Western grebes are relatively common birds on the Pacific coast in winter where they can often be seen in the salt chucks, bays, lagoons, and the ocean, often in large groups, just beyond the breaking waves. We treat many each year. Last year we provided care for nearly 30 Western Grebes. 2014 was a bad year for these elegant aquatic birds – we treated 97.

Because Western Grebes are frequent patients, we generally have good results treating their most common ailments, parasites such as tapeworm, emaciation, and loss of waterproofing due to contamination.

In most ways, the Grebe that came in last month was an ordinary patient. Found on the beach in Trinidad, small abrasions under her lower bill had bled and soiled her neck feathers, which caused her feathers to lose their waterproofing. But that wasn’t her primary problem. Her biggest problem was that she is a juvenile who’d been facing her first winter of independence. This year’s exceptionally stormy season got the better of her. Emaciated, dehydrated, and wet, she didn’t stand a chance without rescue.

But in one critical way this Grebe’s treatment was unusual.

Many of the aquatic birds we treat are piscivores, or fish-eaters. Ordinarily, it is the protocol in successful treatment of highly aquatic birds who require pools to offer these patients fish with low fat content. Pool water quality is important to protect and fish with higher fat content has caused problems, the fish oil contaminates the pool water and in turn contaminates the feathers of the patient, which disrupts the carefully maintained waterproofing. In the wild, these contaminants lead to death. Oil isn’t water-soluble. A detergent of some kind is required to remove it. Once oiled, a bird needs to be cleaned.

Caring for aquatic birds is a specialized skill precisely because of their need for water. Pools, water quality, feeding techniques are each crucial elements in providing care, as are the efforts we make to protect our patients from the harm that can be caused by holding aquatic patients out of water. On land and inside our building, birds who typically float on water their entire lives, are highly susceptible to pressure wounds, respiratory infections, and other secondary problems caused by their time in captivity.

An aquatic bird housed in “dry-dock” needs protective wraps to guard against injures from even the softest solid surfaces. Even with these measures, the patient still must get back to water quickly.

Most of the techniques and protocols for rehabilitating injured aquatic birds come from oil spill response. During an oil spill, sometimes thousands of birds might be impacted. The techniques developed to increase success with such large caseloads is the basis for most current aquatic bird care. Generally we follow them with predictable and largely positive results.

However, something very unusual happened in 2016. The low fat fish we feed our patients, Night Smelt were no longer available. Our supplier said there would be nome until April, and that wasn’t even certain.

Fish populations across the oceans are in trouble, of course. Rising sea temperatures, plastic pollution, over-fishing, agricultural waste run-off, acidification are all wreaking havoc on the marine environment and the health of Mother Earth.

So, we got the fish that our suppliers could deliver: River Smelt, known here on the Northwest coast as Eulachons.

Eulachons are a very nutritious fish, with twice as many calories as Night Smelt. They are also bigger. Not so big that they can’t be swallowed whole by a Western Grebe (see video below) but five times larger than night smelt. Mathematically, it’s easy to see how Eulachons are a better fish to feed. Two 50 gram fish hold a total of 150 calories. Night smelt, at 10 grams each and 70 calories per 100 grams, require 20 fish to reach the same energy content!

This Grebe wouldn’t eat for her first week in care. She had no interest in food. She also had an injury just inside her cloaca, or ‘vent’, so it is possible that she was very uncomfortable when eliminating solid waste. In any case, we had to provide her nutrition via a feeding tube, a technique known as ‘gavage’ feeding – basically putting a fish slurry (a blend of smelt, vitamins, and a nutritionally enhanced liquid similar to a protein drink) directly into the patient’s stomach.
Gavage feeding is necessary when a patient isn’t able to self-feed.

Her weight during this period gradually rose. Our schedule for feeding balanced the needs of the patient to not see our scary faces too many times a day against the calories she needed to recover from her near death by starvation.

Typically aquatic birds require about 3 weeks of Night Smelt to recover from clinical emaciation. Of course there is some variance depending on other factors, including the personality of the patient.

[Your support needed! We are several thousand short of our March goal of $7000! Any amount helps! from $5, to $5 a month to $5000 dollars, your generosity goes directly to our mission of direct care and education. Please donate today!]

After the first week in care, going in and out of the pool, the Grebe struggled with her waterproofing. Her feathers around her vent were consistently wet. Besides for the confirmation that she might indeed have a wound healing just inside her digestive tract, her waterproofing issues were keeping her from spending all her time in the pool, which she needed badly. She had begun eating on her own and her weight was climbing steadily. The only thing holding her back was the persistent wetness around her vent. So we applied detergent to that area to give her a boost. Within a day she was waterproof.
After a week in care, she’d started eating on her own, and with our help, she was waterproof.

After 48 hours in the pool, we thought she was going to be released very soon. And then came a major setback. A volunteer went out to check at the end of the day that the birds in the pool had food and our Grebe was completely soaked, sitting on the little net (we call it a ‘haul-out’) we have for birds who need get out of the water. A healthy bird rarely uses it – it’s essentially a lifeboat for a bird who is struggling.

We pulled her from the pool, put her under a pet dryer and kept her indoors overnight. We analyzed the pool for what might have caused her problem. An obvious suspect, of course was the fish, the fatty Eulachons that had been such an effective food for her emaciation.
This is a very soggy bird using her haul-out. 50˚F water isn’t comfortable for warm blooded animals without thir protective shell. Aquatic birds rely on their feathers to satay warm and dry.

How fish are presented in pools is a tricky proposition no matter what the fat content is. Pieces of fish rather than whole fish are an oily mess even with Night Smelt. Our pools all have an overflow system so that any oils from fish or feces on top of the water are constantly being eliminated.

The problem was identified and we took corrective action. The basket we place the fish was not allowing water to freely flow, trapping oils. Every time our patient put her head in that water to grab a fish, she was picking up the oils and then spreading them around body when she preened, the time-consuming work that most birds must do every day to keep their feathers in good, functional shape. It was a simple problem, simply fixed.

We re-washed her. Within 24 hours she was fully waterproof. 48 hours after that, she was released, 300 grams heavier than when she was admitted, her wounds healed, and her life back on track. Her total time in care, with set backs: 15 days. The Eulachons, even with the problem, shaved a week off her recovery time. That’s simply too good to reject. So we amend our ways to accommodate the oil.
Using a very mild detergent and warm water, the Grebe was quickly washed. From here she was palced in a warm water pool where she essentially rinses herself, finishing the job. Another day of preening and she’ll back on top of her game. A hidden camera caught her as she works to reolve her feather issues in private. She also likes fish!

After another 48 hours in our pool, with modifications made to our system, she ate Eulachons and gained even more weight. After 2 weeks in care, she was released back to her wild freedom.

And then she was gone.  Our intimacy with her is done. She returns to her rightful place, out of our hands.

Right now we don’t have a choice. Eulachons, or river smelt, are what we can find. But even if we do have a choice, we’ll be sticking with the Eulachons. Our goal is to provide the best care, and good nutrition is cornerstone to that goal.

At our clinic in Bayside, with 1200 animals per year in care, we have the opportunity to elaborate on the gains made in aquatic bird care that emerged from high casualty marine disasters such as oil spills. We have the opportunity to develop strategies using our hard won knowledge to improve the care individual animals receive. Will Eulachons be a good fish choice to feed patients in an oil spill? Maybe, but we’d need to devise methods to improve water quality in ways that aren’t currently available. For individual patients, however, or for the much more common caseloads that coastal wildlife rehabilitators face daily, at our teaching hospital here on Humboldt Bay, we are doing the cutting edge work of improving the results of our care. Just as importantly, our efforts here don’t stop here. Through workshops and conferences we take the results of our work to other rehabilitators, demonstrating techniques and processes that they can use, on limited budgets, with limited resources. This necessary self-reliance seems to be the future of all rehabilitation work.

As we enter this period of dire uncertainty – with the Endangered Species Act under threat, with the Environmental Protection Agency openly attacked – in this terrible anti-bloom of the post-conservation era, our work is critical to the future of wildlife rehabilitation.

No matter how bad things become, no matter what night mare unfolds, wild animals will continue to suffer from human activity, human structures, and human caused problems such as quickly deteriorating ocean health. There will be those among us, today, tomorrow and as long as humans are present, who will be compelled to help. If we meet the challenges of our mission, those rehabilitators to come will have reliable information on how to provide good care.

Your support is the only thing that makes any of our work possible. Thank you!

All photos/videos Bird Ally X.




Oil in Africa: a Special Report from the Boston Globe December 2005

It has been loosely estimated that oil spilled in the Niger delta each year is equal to the amount spilled in the gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon… well, as it turns out the BP/Oil industry catastrophe may be far worse than was estimated for that comparison. Still, the point remains that Industry impoverishes nations when it can, makes as few rich as possible, destroys the environment, the habitat, the homes of all who had lived there, fruitfully… and makes passing gestures toward stewardship only when threatened with steep financial penalties, but never does Industry actually repair, or replace, or in any manner acknowledge, what it destroys.


A simple briefing from today, about an “amoeba” of oil moving west – from Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft

From: Deepwater Horizon Response External Affairs
Sent: Friday, July 02, 2010 5:55 PM
Subject: Press Breifing by Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft on Current Weather, its
Effect on Oil Spill Response

DATE: July 02, 2010 16:47:50 CST

Press Breifing by Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft on Current Weather, its Effect on
Oil Spill Response

NEW ORLEANS — Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft briefed the media today on the
current weather and its effect on the oil spill response.

A downloadable audio recording of the briefing is available here
; a transcript

Moderator: Jim McPherson
July 2, 2010
12:00 p.m. CT

Operator: Good afternoon.  My name is (Wendy), and I will be your conference
operator today.  At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the
update on weather effects and current response activities conference call.

All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise.  After
the speakers’ remarks, there will be a question-and-answer session.  If you
would like to ask a question during this time, simply press star, then the
number one on your telephone keypad.  If you would like to withdraw your
question, press the pound key.

Thank you. Captain Jim McPherson, you may begin your conference.

Jim McPherson:  Good afternoon.  I’m Captain Jim McPherson with the unified
command.  In the interest of providing you the latest information on the oil
spill assessment, we’re calling this is a spot report, and we have Admiral
Zukunft here today from New Orleans.  The purpose is to give you an
assessment of what we believe is going on with the trajectories, our current
plans and our future plans.

Admiral Zukunft will be leaving in approximately 20 minutes for an oversight
to verify the written reports that he has, so we’ll do a – he’ll do a brief
statement, then we’ll do some Qs and As.  If you have any other questions
after that, the JIC, 985-902-5231, we’d like you to call on that if you have
any others.

We have invited the governor, Governor Jindal, and his staff to join the
admiral on a helicopter flight this afternoon, and we’re waiting back to
hear on their availability.  He will be leaving on an overflight immediately
after this.


Paul Zukunft: OK, good afternoon, everybody.  For those of you that have
been following this for some time, you’ve probably also been following the
weather.  And as Alex has now moved inland, we’re still seeing some of the
residual effects of that tropical storm, which has prevented us for the past
48 hours from doing any skimming or in-situ burning both near shore and
offshore due to weather conditions.

As a result of the waves that have washed ashore, it has displaced some of
the boom, and we’ve also had weather conditions that have made it unsafe to
fly.  In fact, over 50 percent of our overflights had to be canceled due to
safety reasons.

And of note is we’ve had two lightning strikes, one that hit 10 people,
another lightning strike that hit the rig, so we clearly take these weather
threats to heart when we push the safety envelope in conducting operations.

I’ve been watching the activity as this weather starts to subside.  And in
the Gulf of Mexico, if you’ve seen the footprint of this oil sheen that runs
as far east as Panama City and as far west as Fourchon, Louisiana.

The more concentrated oil is closer to the well site itself, but we now have
a northeast wind direction, and it’s going to gradually shift to the east
over the weekend.  And so that amoeba, if you will, that footprint is going
to slowly march to the east – I’m sorry, to the west.  And what that means
is that some of that oil is going to wash along Mississippi Sound.  And
where it first meets a permanent barrier, if you will, a wall, that’s the
delta, the Mississippi River Delta and then Chandeleur Sound.

I’m concerned, because as I look at the environmental sensitive areas across
the region, besides Barataria Bay, that Chandeleur Sound area is an equally
sensitive one, as well, and there will be oil impacting that area, in the
past probably 24 hours and perhaps in the next 24 hours to come.

So I have worked with our incident commander in Houma to make sure that we
are launching every resource available, because this is going to be a very
long and arduous clean-up operation in the days to come.

I’m especially concerned with some of the wildlife habitats there,
especially an island called Brush Island, which is a wild bird fowl rookery,
and there could be oil impacting that area, as well.  So it’s going to be a
long weekend from an oil spill response perspective.

And we expect that there’s going to continue to be intermittent periods of
rain and thunderstorms due to a trough system across the Gulf of Mexico, not
related to Tropical Storm Alex, but, again, when Admiral Allen first – when
we first started this, he quoted a phrase that Mother Nature has a vote in
this, as well.  And, unfortunately, Mother Nature has voted against us as
we’re staging up this response that has kept people in boats.

And the people doing this work, these are the people that make their
livelihoods in this area.  And, you know, we’re – our hearts are with them,
as well, and trying to get everything possible to move on this effort.

I will say that offshore the seas are now down to seven feet, and that’s out
at the well site, so those heavy oil skimmers, they had to move off the
site, as well.  They’re moving out there as I speak today to resume the
skimming operations out there.  And some of you may have followed the
supertanker, the A Whale, and that will be moving out, and then it has to
take on ballast, so that ship could sink to a point where those intake ports
are at the same level of the water and oil.

And they’ve been assigned a five-by-five-mile square area just to the north
of the well site, and they’ll be working that tomorrow.  We have Coast Guard
research and development and strike team personnel on there to assess the
effectiveness of the A Whale and the skimming, as well.

So we’re using every and all available assets, but just, you know, to
clarify, the A Whale is right now an assessment that we’re doing, but
certainly it brings a piece of technology that has never been used in U.S.
oil spill response.

I’ll leave that as a – you know, where we stand right now.  But, again, the
reason I wanted to make this call is to see firsthand what the potential
impacts are, especially to Lake Borgne.  And as some of you from the local
area know, as you – as water enters Lake Borgne, it then goes through an
estuary system, through the Rigolets, and then into Lake Pontchartrain.  And
for me, that is where I’m losing the most sleep right now, is if oil were to
enter into that system and ultimately into Lake Pontchartrain.

I’m not here to say that it’s there, but I’m going to look, and if I see
even sheen, I’m going to push to make sure that we’re moving every and all
available resources to respond to this particular area.

Now, as you know, we’ve got oil that’s covering coastlines.  We’ve got 450
miles of oil-impacted shoreline and ongoing activity in those locations, as
well.  But doing this in triage fashion right now, this is my most critical
patient right now, is the Chandeleur Sound area.

So I’ve made the invite to the governor or his staff to join me on this
flight so he can see firsthand and share with me what his concerns are, what
our response strategy is, so we can clearly be united, and it must be a
united response to handle what’s going to be a very long-term response.

With that, I’ll open it up to questions.

Operator: At this time, if you would like to ask a question, press star, one
on your telephone keypad.  Your first question comes from the line of
(Jessica Reznikalt).  (Jessica), your line is open.

Your next question comes from the line of (Allison Bennett).

(Allison Bennett):      Hi.  Thank you for taking my call.  What rig was hit
by lightning?  And was any damaged caused?  And where was the one strike of
lightning that hit 10 people?

Paul Zukunft: OK.  The Discoverer Enterprise – and that’s the collection
vessel that has the top hat – that was struck by lightning.  It did cause a
small fire that was extinguished.  It did cause the operation to shut down
for approximately 8 to 10 hours.  And they do have precautions in place, so
any time they see thunderstorms within five miles of the rig, they do have
to shut down that top hat collection, which means during those shutdown
periods, you know, oil continues to release.

The other strike occurred down in Venice, and it was eight guardsmen that
were struck my lightning.  This was over a month ago.  None of them were
seriously injured, but, again, this time of year, with the convection
currents – and that’s what caused a lot of our aircraft to be grounded
yesterday, as well, due to the activity out in the water.

(Allison Bennett): OK.  Thank you, guys.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Kate Spinner).

(Kate Spinner): Hi.  Thanks for taking my question.  I’m curious about how
much oil you were not able to collect because of the bad weather.  How much
were you able to collect before the bad weather set in and – I don’t know if
I’m asking the question right, but…

Paul Zukunft: No, no.  That’s a very good question.  And on – on most days,
the seas have to be about three feet or less in order for us to be able to
effectively skim.  And on an average day, we’re skimming about 12,000
barrels of oil per day.

And you need those same weather conditions to – to herd oil and then corral
it, if you can imagine corralling oil, and then setting fire to it.  This is
all done, you know, far offshore, and we have eight, and we’ll soon have 12
operations configured to do what’s called in-situ burning.  And we’ve had
days where we’ve been able to remove another 8,000 barrels of oil through
in-situ burns.

So the – the 12,000 or so barrels of oil that are – that are skimmed, that’s
oil and water, so it’s not pure oil that’s being removed, whereas the oil
that’s burned, that is pure oil that’s being removed.  So that’s – that
20,000 roughly total is what we’re not being able to take out of the Gulf of
Mexico due to the prevailing weather.

(Kate Spinner): Thanks.

Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Susan Dager).

(Susan Dager): Hi, Admiral, this is (Susan Dager).  I have three
clarifications.  When you were talking about the Discoverer Enterprise being
hit by lightning, was that a previous event or was that something that had
just happened during Alex?

Paul Zukunft: No, (Susan), that happened probably about three weeks ago.

(Susan Dager): OK, I remember that.  OK, the other thing is, when you’re
seeing – talking about 20,000 barrels of oil not being skimmed or burned
off, is that a day?

Paul Zukunft: That is a day.  And these are…

(Susan Dager): A day.  And so how many days would we be talking about?

Paul Zukunft: Oh, for the – for the last two days…

(Susan Dager): Last two days.

Paul Zukunft: And, actually, today we’re just starting to get those – you
know, the seas are still at about seven feet, so we’re looking at, you know,
between a 72- to 96-hour period where we’re not able to do skimming.

(Susan Dager): OK.

Paul Zukunft: And when you have sea states like that, as those waves come
ashore, you know, that boom is anchored, but it does cause the boom to
become displaced, as well.  So the weather hits us on several fronts, one,
in our ability – inability to recover and, two, it does break down that boom
and make it more permeable.

(Susan Dager): And then I guess the thing is, I’m not from New Orleans, but
I am familiar with Lake Pontchartrain. Why would it be so bad if oil reached
Lake Pontchartrain?

Paul Zukunft: Well, that’s just part of an inland ecosystem.

(Susan Dager): OK.

Paul Zukunft: And so we’re really trying to mitigate anything getting into
these – you know, these ecosystems that have not experienced any – any oil
impact, nor do we want them to.

(Susan Dager): And you think that the storm – there’s a chance that the
storm could have pushed it there, and you’re going to go check on that right
now to see if that happened?

Paul Zukunft: Well, we’ll certainly check.  Right now, there’s no
indication.  And we’re – you know, we do have a lot of technology at our –
at our disposal.  And even though we can’t fly airplanes, we have rather
sophisticated satellite technology, as well.

(Susan Dager): OK.

Paul Zukunft: But there’s – you know, when you have really light sheen, the
satellite can’t get a – can’t detect that.

(Susan Dager): OK.

Paul Zukunft:  And the only way to really ascertain whether there’s oil or
not is to fly over it.

Jim McPherson:  All right.  We have time for one last question, please.

Operator:  Your next question comes from the line of (Aaron Cooper).

(Aaron Cooper):  Hi, thank you for taking the call.  There’s been some
reporting about FEMA trailers being used to house workers in certain areas
about the trailers that had some toxic concerns in the past.  Can you tell
me if you are aware of any trailers that have – were used in the Katrina
response as FEMA trailers that are being used anywhere in this response for
anything?  And if not, can you give me any kind of guidance on how you
determine what is a safe trailer to use?

Paul Zukunft: I will say that there was no intentional – and we don’t know
of any FEMA trailers that have been hired by BP to shelter people.  And we
were re-running those numbers to make absolutely certain.  But right now,
there’s no indication that what had been FEMA trailers that may have been
purchased by an outside contractor were then inadvertently made available to
house people.

And we do know that, at this point, we don’t have people residing in FEMA
trailers, but certainly it was a concern, as that rumor surfaced, that we
ran that to ground immediately.

(Aaron Cooper): Are the – you say they’re not being used to house people.
Are they being used for anything else?

Paul Zukunft: Right now, I don’t know of any FEMA trailers that are being
used for storage or anything else.  You know, that’s not a resource, and
it’s probably one that perhaps maybe FEMA can answer to that, as well.  But
right now, no intentional effort to make those resources available.

(Aaron Cooper): Thank you.

Jim McPherson: OK.  Thank you for everyone’s questions.  I would just like
to make a couple of comments here.  First of all, we’d like to ask the
public to report any oil sightings to the phone number 866-448-5816, and for
questions from the media, to please call the Joint Information Center at

Male: That’s in New Orleans.

Jim McPherson: And that’s in New Orleans.  Thank you very much for your

Operator: This concludes today’s conference call.  You may now disconnect.


View this document online  
Joint Information Center
Unified Command for the BP Oil Spill | Deepwater Horizon Response


Why do we rehabilitate oiled wildlife?

Why do we rehabilitate oiled wildlife?

A very easy question, actually. For the same reason that we rehabilitate any orphaned or injured wild animals.

And what is that reason?  If you find someone in jeopardy you try to help.

If your best effort doesn’t help you try to discover why. You change your approach. You learn your lessons. You improve your result.

It is very simple really. What more needs to be said?

The cost of treating injured wild animals doesn’t come from some general fund set aside for issues related to wildlife, pre-established and limited.

No. It comes from the fund that is generated by those who agree that such treatment be available, and those people are few, and funds are scarce.

If it were not for all of those animals that will never be found, the thousands and thousands of dead, it would seem to be a rare moment of justice in a nation as built on wholesale destruction as is the United States, that the party who injures is the party who pays, as the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 demands.

 Now,  should the party who injures be in any way construed to be the party who cares? Absolutely not.

Dear BP, the only thing you have to give is money. Otherwise, butt out, shut up, and wait for your trial.