January 5th marks National Bird Day, which commemorates these amazing animals and aims to bring awareness to issues that threaten their species. Growing up, my parents always stocked several bird feeders in the yard with seeds every day, so I have a special place in my heart for birds and what they add to the world. As a Dawn Wildlife Ambassador, I have been privileged to visit the International Bird Rescue Wildlife Center in California and see their important work first-hand. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Isabel Luevano, the Wildlife Center Manager for International Bird Rescue in San Francisco, about the work that the organization does and how each person can make a difference in the lives of these amazing creatures.
Q&A With Isabel Luevano of International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
What are some of the biggest threats currently facing bird populations?
The biggest threat facing bird species we work with, and I believe all wildlife, is pollution. There isn’t just one type of pollution either; there are many different types of pollution we come across. Some examples include: Injuries due to plastics pollution from littering, plastic bags wrapped around the bird’s body, ingesting garbage (wrappers, corndog sticks), to rubber bands stuck on their heads or beaks, as well as the ingestion of small plastic particles out in open ocean.
We receive a large amount of birds that have come into contact with left-behind fishing gear, in which fishing hooks and line can cause horrendous infections and injuries involving constriction wounds or piercing wounds from the hooks.
We also see a large amount of pollution contaminants on our patients, some examples being petroleum oil, roofing tar, cooking oil, wax, even paint–anything that gets left behind in the environment can becomes potential hazard to these birds. From a bird’s eye view, they see as a puddle to bathe in not knowing it’s full of car oil, or one of many pollutant possibilities.
Another large threat to our patients is the unforeseen changes in their environment. For example the ocean water temperatures fluctuate from cold to warm waters. The temperature change drives their usual food sources to deeper depths in the water column making it difficult for the birds to dive and feed. This can often end up with the bird starving and exhausting itself, which can leave them at risk when they beach themselves. It can also cause them to search for food in unusual paces which can potentially lead to dangerous situations like chasing fishing boats, looking in dumpsters, or habituating to people for food handouts.
How is Bird Rescue responding to these problems?
Bird Rescue responds to these issues by accepting any native aquatic bird species and giving them the medical care they need for the issue at hand. If a bird comes in with injuries from pollution we care for them just as any hospital would. They are given pain medication, antibiotics, x-rays, or surgical intervention. We offer the medical treatments we can until the bird recovers to normal health.
If a patient shows signs of contamination we stabilize them, wash them with DAWN dishwashing soap, rinse them and return their plumage back to its original status to be a healthy bird again. We are able to use this knowledge of working with contaminated wildlife and respond internationally to oil spills and wildlife events. If the patient arrives starving/emaciated, the bird will receive supportive care fluids, nutritional tubings to regain strength and become a healthy predator/hunter/fisher/dabbler that they would normally be.
Though we do what we can to care for these birds we do find certain limitations because we are a non-profit. Daily we reach for ways to have the best medical supplies/care but this can be difficult at times without financial support.
How can individuals take action in their daily lives to help protect the environment and preserve bird habitats?
I always encourage people–the public, friends and family to go out and explore our local wildlife habitats and if you find trash/pollution collect it, bring it back to a proper disposal site so we all can stop these pollutants from finding their way into an animal’s life. Individuals can try to prevent pollution by educating others to take action as well.
If you see pollution happening mention it to the polluter, many times people are so wrapped up in their own lives they don’t even realize the impacts they have on others and a friendly reminder can change their way of thinking. As an individual it is always a great feeling to get involved in some sort of beach or habitat cleanup, to work alongside others with the same goal, to protect and help our environment.
You can also volunteer within our organization to help/assist care for our patients, donate funds to our Non Profit, and become a member. These are all ways to help make a difference in the care and work of International Bird Rescue.
What else can our readers at home do to help?
Educate yourself, friends and family on our mission and organization. Volunteer, and donate—every donation has a huge impact! So many individuals feel they can’t do much as one person but being that one individual who helps spread our mission, can catch the necessary momentum to make real difference in the community. Being an ambassador for Bird Rescue sheds light on the need for this important work. As knowledge spreads, so does our capacity to help sea and water birds in need, but we have to do it together!
For more information, please visit International Bird Rescue online at Bird-Rescue.org as well as on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. You can also visit the Dawn Saves Wildlife website as well as their Facebook and Twitter pages for additional ways to help.