First, Do No Harm

Anyone who has watched episodes of the great (and not so great) medical dramas – ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, MASH – has heard the classic saying, “first, do no harm.” Originating in the nineteenth century, in Latin, “primum non nocere” is often quoted as part of the famous Hippocratic oath. To this day, the Hippocratic oath, or a modernized version, remains a symbolic rite of passage for medical students as they embark on their careers as physicians. While doctors of veterinary medicine (aka veterinarians) recite a similar oath upon entering the profession, I believe that the ethical construct of “first, do no harm” extends far beyond the medical community.

American Veterinary Medical Association Veterinarian’s Oath: Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge. I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics. I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.

Wildlife rehabilitators are all too familiar with the story of a concerned and well-meaning member of the public showing up on their doorstep with an “orphaned” baby bird, bunny, etc. Although there are instances of abandonment, more often than not these baby animals have been left alone temporarily or fallen out of a nest, and in turn were kidnapped rather than orphaned. This is the perfect example of how anyone interacting with or trying to help wildlife can and should imbibe the principle of “first, do no harm.” If we rewind this scenario…..I’m a member of the public and I find a baby bird under a tree in my yard. What’s the first thing I do? Pick it up and HELP it, right? WRONG. That could actually do the animal HARM. My first step should be to ASK for help from the professionals. There are ample resources available for individuals who want to help wildlife by “first, not doing harm,” for example the “Help, I found a [insert species]!” and “Find a Wildlife Rehabilitator” tools from the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.”

Now you may be asking yourself, what does any of this have to do with oiled wildlife? Well, let me pose a similar situation, with a few tweaks. I’m a member of the public and I come across a bird (or birds) covered in oil. What’s the first thing I’m going to do? I’ve seen the Dawn commercials – I’m going to pick it up and wash off that toxic oil right? WRONG. That will do the animal HARM. My first step should be to ASK for help from the professionals (aka the Oiled Wildlife Care Network)!

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network and our network of member organizations go through extensive training in order to “first, do no harm” when helping oiled wildlife. We follow scientifically and experience driven protocols to provide the best capture and care of oiled wildlife in a manner that is both safe for the animal and the [human] responder.

Going back to the situation above, a member of the public without training in oiled wildlife care might think that the first step in the rehabilitation process is to wash the animal. But, did you know that in many situations oiled animals are stabilized for two to three days before being washed? This may come as a surprise because oil is toxic right? While that IS true, there are other things to consider. For example, most oiled wildlife come into care starving, dehydrated, cold, weak and anemic. If we immediately put them through the very stressful wash process, we actually risk doing MORE HARM. Instead, the first few days of an oiled animal’s care is focused on replacing fat stores, rehydration, thermoregulation and replacing blood volume. Once an animal is strong enough, then it is ready for wash (which is performed by trained professionals).

The top 5 things you can do to “first, do no harm” for oiled wildlife

  1. Do NOT attempt to rescue or wash oiled wildlife yourself – you risk harm to both the animal and yourself.
  2. If you see an oiled animal, REPORT it to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 1-877-UCD-OWCN (877-823-6926). Take a photo with your cell phone, note your GPS coordinates and keep your eyes on the animal until you are able to speak with a wildlife professional.
  3. Stay SAFE by keeping yourself and your pets out of affected areas – oil is toxic!
  4. Consider becoming affiliated with an OWCN Member Organization so you can help at the next spill.
  5. If you cannot become a pre-trained volunteer, consider donating to your local wildlife rehabilitation organization, which helps injured wildlife year-round.

So, with that I ask that the next time you are faced with a situation where you want to help wildlife in need, remember to “first, do no harm.”

~ Jamie

Drumroll Please! The OWCN’s 2022 Events Are Now Live

Happy New Year! Last week Kyra announced our 2022 lecture series, which commenced in January. We are very excited about these lectures and hope Network members will join us for one, if not all the events! As Kyra said, we have some cool topics.

To follow up, I am excited to announce our 2022 training and engagement events. Since we are still in an active pandemic and out of an abundance of caution for everyone’s safety, we’ve decided to host only virtual events during the first ½ of the year. We are hopeful that we will be able to safely host in-person events, including a much-anticipated Oilapalooza, towards the end of the year. We will continue to monitor COVID-19 and adjust our events as needed. 

In the meantime, we invite our Network members to consider which events they may want to participate in and sign up via their responder profile in Better Impact. Network responders can also find the above calendar and a guide to the OWCN’s Training Program offerings on the home page of their responder profile (see below). 

If you have any questions about any of our trainings, events or prerequisites please reach out to us at If there are any changes to the posted schedule, we will let you know as soon as possible. 

In the meantime, please stay safe and I hope to see you IRL (In Real Life) very soon!


Danene Birtell, Readiness Coordinator – Care Operations

Lecture Series

This week we successfully launched our first of six lectures as part of our “2022 Lecture Series”. On Monday, JD Bergeron, CEO of International Bird Rescue, gave an excellent presentation that highlighted International Bird Rescue’s 50th Anniversary. If you did not join us for Monday’s presentation, please mark your calendars for the upcoming lectures, as we have some really cool topics, as you can see below:

If you are an active OWCN responder and miss any of these lectures, we will be posting the recorded lectures online. Details regarding access will be emailed to responders once the recordings are posted.


Hazing: Lessons Learned from the South Farallon Islands

Since I began working here within the OWCN, I’ve had a fascination with the hazing side of spill response. I mean come on, what a cool concept! The number one goal is to try to come up with creative ways to keep creatures out of danger. Not only are you trying to keep minimally impacted wildlife from becoming more impacted, but you’re also trying to prevent additional wildlife from becoming impacted at all. So, you come up with something you think will be “scary” enough to keep them away, but then days later you have to come up with something “scarier” so those animals don’t want to come back for the duration of the clean-up efforts. Talk about an ongoing battle of wits!

In hopes of gaining a better understanding for myself of what techniques work best, I recently read a report from the Island Conservation’s Farallon Islands Restoration Project study that looked at Hazing Western Gulls on the South Farallon Islands (Grout et al. 2013). It contains a lot of incredible information regarding the safe, yet productive, hazing and deterrence of wildlife, and I thought I’d share their findings with you all in case any of you find the concept of hazing/deterrence as cool as I do.

The purpose of this study was to test various tools that would haze, or deter, Western Gulls from the South Farallon Islands in order to reduce the risk of exposure to a rodenticide pellet. This trial was conducted between November 27th and December 15th, 2012 as this was the approximate time of year that was proposed to conduct a future mouse eradication project in which rodent bait would be placed on the islands. It was determined that this period would be ideal for the eradication as the majority of marine birds were off the islands, Western Gull numbers were low, and it was prior to elephant seal breeding season.  Prior to these eradication efforts being implemented, a study was needed to determine if hazing efforts would be effective at keeping the remaining Western Gulls on the island out of the eradication area where bait would be placed. Additionally, information was needed to understand if these tools would negatively impact other wildlife inhabiting the islands. Thus, this trial was launched! To be clear, no eradication efforts were conducted during this trial. This trial was needed to determine if such hazing tools would be useful and effective during the actual eradication, which to this day has not been implemented.

There were 19 different hazing tools tested during this study, including passive and active hazing measures. When individual tools were used to clear the gulls from an area, they would fly from the spot they were hazed from to another part of the island. Therefore, it became apparent that multiple hazing/deterrence tools would need to be used at one time so that when they were hazed from one area, they could not just land elsewhere, they would actually have to leave the island. Overall, it was determined that the greatest results are achieved when using a combination of tools at the same time such as helicopters, pyrotechnics, amplified biosonics (including birdguard devices, marine wailer, Long Range Acoustic Devices), and lasers. The most effective pyrotechnics proved to be the long range CAPA rockets, which unfortunately are no longer available. What surprised me the most was the impact of lasers. The lasers were not only used to dissuade gulls from landing but also used to clear roosting gulls and prevent them from coming back. In addition, they were effective over long line of sight distances and could be used out of the helicopter or from the lighthouse on SE Farallon, which provides a full vantage point around the islands. The biosonic devices were used to clear large areas of the islands with ease and appeared to have negligible impacts to the pinnipeds present.

Despite the consensus that the combination of sound and motion is most effective, there was one exception: effigies. When you hear the word ‘effigy’, you probably think of a plastic owl or other raptor placed on a fence post or mounted to a roof or other object. However, in this case, effigy refers to naturally deceased Western Gulls that were found on the islands. The researchers discovered that if these effigies were attached to a pole 8ft high, they acted as an excellent deterrent to prevent other gulls from coming to that area. These effigies not only deterred the gulls for a few days, but they successfully deterred them for several weeks which is incredibly uncommon when deploying hazing/deterrence devices. Other tools assessed that proved to be less effective included mylar streamers, balloons, kites, and zon guns. The mylar, balloons, and kites seemed to have little impact on gull presence and generally did not withstand the weather conditions present on the islands. The zon guns, while sometimes effective at close range, had limited use in this scenario given the pinniped presence and weather conditions.

Throughout the course of this study, hazing/deterrence impacts to other wildlife on the island were also noted. Species that were being monitored included Brandt’s Cormorants, Common Murres, Brown Pelicans, Black Oystercatchers, and other overwintering shorebirds. All of these birds were sensitive to the hazing tools used, so any of these methods used on the gulls are likely effective on these species as well. Even though pinnipeds were not the focus of this study, their behavior was monitored closely when testing hazing techniques on the gulls; therefore the researchers were able to observe that pyrotechnics, helicopters, and humans were the most disruptive, whereas Birdgard, Long Range Acoustic Device, lasers, and Marine Wailer had minimal impacts.

Thus, there are a variety of tools one can implement to effectively haze/deter various species. I believe that as long as we vary the tools we are using, we can successfully reduce the impacts to wildlife during an oil spill response. This study has provided great insight into the effectiveness of combining tools that use sound and motion to haze/deter wildlife from an area, and I hope we can effectively implement some of these ideas next time they are needed.

Speaking of which, I know there are quite a few of you out there who are interested in getting more training and experience in the hazing world of oil spill response. My personal goal for this upcoming year is to focus on OWCN’s hazing program, beef it up, and give all of you who are interested, an opportunity to receive additional hazing specific training. If you are a creative person who loves to experiment with ideas, and you think the hazing/deterrence side of oil spill response sounds like something you would like to participate in, please shoot me an email at

For more information on this study and to read the full paper, please follow this link:


Grout, D. R. Griffiths, M. Pott, R. Bradley, P. Warzybok, W. Vickers, D. Milsaps and G. McChesney. 2013. Hazing Western Gulls on the South Farallon Islands. Appendix E: South Farallon Islands Invasive House Mouse Eradication Project: Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Federal register #FWS-R8-NWRS-2013-0036

The Bay Delta Region

It’s been a while due to the responses we’ve been having, but for this week’s blog, I’d like to get back to our region highlights, with Region 3, the “Bay Delta”. Recall that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) divides the state into 7 functional regions:

  • Region 1: Northern
  • Region 2: North Central
  • Region 3: Bay Delta
  • Region 4: Central
  • Region 5: South Coast
  • Region 6: Inland Deserts
  • Region 7: Marine

Region 3 consists of the Bay Delta counties from Sonoma and Napa in the north, east to San Joaquin, and south to Santa Cruz and Santa Clara  

With 19 Member Organizations within this area, it contains our most represented region: 

  • Sonoma County
    • The Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rosa
    • Wildlife Rescue of Sonoma County in Petaluma
    • Point Blue Conservation Science Headquarters in Petaluma
  • Marin County
    • Point Blue Conservation Science Palomarin Field Station in Bolinas
    • WildCare in San Rafael
    • Estuary and Ocean Science Center in Tiburon
    • The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito
  • Solano County
    • International Bird Rescue (North) in Fairfield
    • Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo
    • The Wild Neighbors Database Project 
  • Contra Costa County
    • Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek
  • San Francisco County
    • Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco
    • Greater Farallones Association in San Francisco
    • California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco
  • Alameda County
    • Golden Gate Audubon Society in Berkeley
  • San Mateo County
    • Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA in Burlingame
  • Santa Clara County
    • San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory in Milpitas
  • Santa Cruz County
    • University of California – Santa Cruz
    • Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz
    • Native Animal Rescue in Santa Cruz

While this region is highly populated and urbanized, it is also spread out over large areas of wetlands and mountains that surround the San Francisco Bay.  I got to see more of this area and its wildlife this past weekend when OWCN responded to a spill in the area of Fremont/Coyote Creek.  Thankfully the spill was of gasoline so it dissipated rather quickly, but we could see how difficult the situation could have been as much of the area is a network of vegetation-lined streams and mudflats.  This region is home to many endemic species, including some that I find particularly interesting:

Alameda Island Mole

This Species of Special Concern is found only on Alameda Island.  And even if you were there looking for it, it’s unlikely you will see any because they have a fossorial lifestyle (live most of their life relatively deep underground).  Like other moles, their tunnel openings at the surface have a volcano-like appearance that differs from what you usually see with burrowing rodents (gophers, ground squirrels, voles…).  They also do not typically form collapsing burrow tracts that you see with voles which burrow shallower to feed on the root systems of plants. 



Ground Squirrel

Point Reyes Mountain Beaver

Another seldom seen animal of Region 3, this Mountain beaver is endemic to the Point Reyes area.  Mountain beavers are often considered the most primitive rodent species.  But why are they called “beavers”?  They don’t frequent the water or build dams like the beavers we typically think of, and they don’t look like them either.  Their similarity comes from chewing down trees, or at least stalks and saplings.   

They are nocturnal, active year-round and territorial, remaining close to their burrow to defend it.  Like other Mountain beavers, their primitive kidneys are unable to concentrate urine, so they require a constant source of available water.  Their Preferred Optimum Temperature Zone (POTZ) is a chilly 40-60F.  And they have opposable thumbs!

San Francisco Dusky-footed Woodrat

This endemic Species of Special Concern of the Bay Area can be found from Point Reyes to Santa Cruz, and inland to Mount Diablo and Pleasanton.  This species prefers heavily wooded areas that have a good amount of undergrowth and it builds distinctive large stick houses, usually at the base of or within a tree that is in close proximity to water.

Woodrat Den

Salt-marsh Harvest Mouse

Salt-marsh Harvest Mouse in Pickleweed

There are 2 subspecies of the State and Federally Endangered Salt-marsh harvest mouse, with the South Bay subspecies having a dark brown fur above and a lighter brown fur coat on the belly and the North Bay subspecies having a lighter cream-colored belly.  Like many of our native mice, it has a bicolored tail.  This mouse makes its nests out of grass and sedge on the ground and is usually associated with areas of Pickleweed.

While we were doing our wildlife surveys at Coyote Creek the other day, Scott Buhl had been talking about the elusive Salt-marsh harvest mouse and when Tim Williamson pointed out the Pickleweed lining the banks, it jarred my memory that this was the habitat I had learned about!  Although, we still did not see any of those elusive mice.

San Francisco Gartersnake

This State Threatened and Federally Endangered snake is endemic to the San Francisco Peninsula from San Francisco County to Northern Santa Cruz County.  It is mostly active during the day in wetlands and grasslands near water, often fleeing into the water when threatened.  It is also active at lower temperatures than most other snakes.

California Ridgway’s Rail

Another species that is often associated with Pickleweed habitat is the California Ridgways’ rail.  A State and Federally Endangered species, this large chicken-sized bird is a resident of the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays and Suisun Marsh.  Like many of the other species mentioned here it is very reclusive and not often seen; however they may theoretically be a species easier to catch since they prefer to either freeze and hide under vegetation or run away rather than fly.

Santa Cruz Black Salamander

And we should always include a herp, so the final spotlight species is the Santa Cruz black salamander.  This amphibian inhabits mixed woodland and conifer forests of Santa Cruz, Santa Mateo and Santa Clara counties.  If you were to see this salamander, it would likely be either at night or on the ground in damp areas under rocks, logs or in talus.  It is also aggressively territorial to others of its species!

I hope everyone is having a nice holiday time with family and friends and remembers to think about the really cool wildlife that we are fortunate to live amongst!

Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!


Closing out 2021 and welcoming 2022…

Looking back to December 2020, I can’t help but reflect on how far we’ve come. This time last year many of us were planning on spending the holiday season “pandemic style”, which essentially meant being physically separated from our friends and families. For me that resulted in many Zoom gatherings instead of traveling to the East Coast to see my family. Although it wasn’t easy, everyone did their part to keep their colleagues, friends and loved ones safe. Throughout the year we slowly started to get a glimpse of “normalcy” and were able to gather in small groups and consider traveling to see friends and family. As 2021 comes to a close, I am hopeful that everyone will be able to safely enjoy the holidays and re-connect with at least one holiday tradition they missed out on in 2020.

As a Network, 2021 brought levels of uncertainty, but we stepped up and remained resilient. Although we weren’t able to safely host many in-person events we still came together during our virtual Town Hall’s, trainings, and engagement events. Oh, and we can’t forget the multiple spill responses, including the Pipeline P00547 incident where we had greater than 90 network responders assist with the response efforts. Honestly, I was so happy to see so many of our Network members IN PERSON (although I wish it was under different circumstances). We are very grateful for all of your hard work during these unprecedented times and can’t thank you enough for your continued resilience, patience and commitment to the OWCN’s mission and California’s wildlife.

As we prepare for the New Year we are cautiously optimistic that we may be able to resume some in-person events. We will continue to monitor the status of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the emerging Omicron variant. The safety of our Network responders is our number one priority and we will continue to pivot as needed. In the meantime, please keep an eye on your inbox for announcements regarding upcoming events, including our first virtual event, which will be on January 10th, 2022 from 12:00 – 1:00 PM. We are excited to have JD Bergeron from International Bird Rescue (IBR) kickoff our new 2022 monthly Lecture Series. He will be highlighting IBR’s 50th anniversary, so please save the date! Zoom webinar information will be available soon.

On behalf of the OWCN Management Team, I wish you a very happy and healthy holiday season and all the best for 2022.


Danene Birtell, Readiness Coordinator – Care Operations

Happy or Hissing? 5 signs that the wild animal you rescued actually hates you.

A disastrous oil spill, a feathered victim, a rescue team, and a happy ending. The story certainly has the makings of a solid Disney movie. I’ll give you that. If you were following the news coverage of the Pipeline P00547 Incident aka the Orange County Oil Spill, then chances are you have already seen this photo of the “Happy Duck”. The image was shared widely by news outlets who referred to the ruddy duck as “Happy Duck” to depict the lighter side of response efforts as people worked together to clean up the environmental disaster. Well folks, here is where I must be the bearer of bad news. This photo does NOT depict a happy duck. This, in fact, is a decidedly unhappy duck. But don’t worry, Unhappy Duck still gets a happy ending! Let me explain.

You see, I took the infamous “Happy Duck” photo and I can testify that our ruddy duck patient was actually a simmering ball of feathery rage. Why? Because he had been abducted by terrifying primate predators and was being held against his will! (I’ll refer to Ruddy as a he, but truthfully he/she was in a phase of molt when gender is indeterminable) You see, wildlife and humans tend to mix about as well as–humor me–oil and water. For a person, an encounter with a wild bird can be an awe-inspiring, lifelong memory! Something to share with friends on social media for sure! But for a wild bird, an encounter with a much larger human would be terrifying, life-threatening, and something to avoid at all costs!

The ruddy duck is pre-treated with a solvent to begin the de-oiling process.

I snapped the photo in question the day after our lively little ruddy duck went through the cleaning process. As the first patient recovered during the oil spill, it was important to document his progress. During a large spill like this, the media and the public are watching closely. They want reassurance that the wildlife is being cared for and the OWCN is glad to provide that transparency. So following the de-oiling bath (which was probably the absolute scariest experience of his life) I seized the opportunity during his regularly scheduled exam to snap a quick progress photo. Ruddy’s transformation was remarkable! Where there had previously been thick, tarry clumps of oil and sand adhered to every inch of Ruddy’s body, there was now only a coating of supple tan and brown feathers. Perhaps most shocking was Ruddy’s drop in weight. Pre-wash, Ruddy was 560 grams. Now clean, Ruddy’s weight dropped to 440 grams. Usually weight loss is a concerning sign in wildlife rehabilitation, but in this case it meant that Ruddy was probably feeling much better after shedding over 100 grams of oil and sand! Surely this means he’s happy? No. But he’s smiling?! Wrong again.

This is a good time to check in with one of the core concepts of wildlife rehabilitation. As wildlife caregivers, it is crucial that we maintain awareness of the stress level of our patient. How can we tell if an animal is stressed? There are many indications, but they largely depend on the species and its natural defenses. In this case, ducks and geese are known to hiss and posture defensively when they feel threatened. Ever been strolling through the park when you’re suddenly approached by a hissing goose? That goose wasn’t being a jerk, she was protecting her family. A lot of people hate geese, but honestly–they’re one of my favorite birds. You’ve got to respect an animal that demands respect! You wouldn’t encounter a hissing ruddy duck at your neighborhood park though. Unlike Canada geese, ruddy ducks steer clear of humans. But when cornered by a human? Ruddy is going to defend himself in the only way he knows how. Hissing, posturing, and snapping. And that, friends, is exactly what Ruddy is doing in the photo.

The ruddy duck hisses and lunges when being picked up for treatment.

Alright, alright. Jeez, Sam–way to ruin our harmless illusion of the Happy Duck. Yeah, I know–sorry. But the thing is, it’s not always harmless illusion. Wildlife can and often do suffer at the hands of people who mistake stress and fear for sweeter emotions. We humans have a proclivity for anthropomorphizing animal’s in order to relate to them.

Anthropomorphize: verb. to attribute human form or personality to things not human.

This isn’t to say that animals aren’t capable of experiencing happiness, love, gratitude, etc. But don’t fall into the trap of assuming that YOU can accurately interpret a wild animal’s emotions. Wildlife caregivers and other keen observers of the natural world may have an easier time of deciphering a wild animal’s reactions. But for the general public, decoding these signals often goes awry and leads to an animal being subjected to undue stress. People love a feel-good story of rescuing an animal in need. And I am by no means discouraging anyone from helping animals in need! Instead, I am offering a small dose of honesty for the sake of the wild animals who you might help someday. The take home message here is this: Wild animals do not know you are trying to help them. They are terrified of you. Good intentions are wonderful, but informed good intentions are even better! Act from a place of respect and do everything in your power to minimize their fear and stress. It makes a difference!

So without any further ado, here are 5 signs that the wild animal you rescued actually hates you (or at least fears you!):

  1. Hissing, chattering, chirping – pretty much any kind of vocalization directed at a human. This indicates a very fearful and defensive wild animal. Wild animals often vocalize to distract or scare-off a predator that is pursuing them.
  2. Puffing up their fur or feathers. Posturing to make yourself appear larger is a common strategy when faced with a dangerous predator. It’s even recommended that humans use this technique if they encounter a mountain lion.
  3. Flipping onto their back. Chances are, a wild animal doesn’t want to harm you. If given the choice, it would much rather flee. But if injured or trapped, it may resort to defending itself. For species like raptors, this could mean flipping onto their back to use their sharp talons on you.
  4. Freezing in place or accepting petting. The fight or flight instinct is strong! Some animals will always choose to flee and if fleeing isn’t an option, they will completely freeze in fear. This isn’t an invitation to coo softly and pet the distressed animal! This means it’s time to either give them space or place them in a safe, quiet container for transportation to a permitted rehabilitator.
  5. Staring into your eyes. This is a time when eye contact is discouraged. That injured hawk isn’t trying to form a soul connection with you. He’s trying to anticipate your next move. He’s expecting you to attack him and he wants to be ready.

Have you ever rescued a wild animal? Or have you seen one of those popular, feel-good internet videos where someone saves a wild animal from certain death? Did you observe any of these signs of fear or stress? I hope you’re not too bummed to learn that wild animals are a lot less thankful for our help than you previously thought. Having a greater awareness of an animal’s stress response is a GOOD thing! It means we can adapt our way of helping to better suit the needs of the distressed animal. This is exactly what we do as professional wildlife responders at the OWCN. We carefully consider the stress of our patients and constantly seek ways to mitigate it for the sake of their health and wellbeing. A stressed animal might reject food, injure itself with repeated escape attempts, take longer to heal, or worse.

Ruddy spent a week on the pool perfecting his waterproofing. Even from this distance, Ruddy was wary of the photographer’s presence.

For Ruddy, we implemented a variety of things to minimize stress. Our care team always spoke minimally and with hushed voices around him. We prepared all necessary supplies ahead of time so that Ruddy’s treatments were quick and efficient. We provided a species-appropriate diet and caging. Once Ruddy was de-oiled and waterproof, we moved him outside to a pool so that he was disturbed as little as possible. Finally, when Ruddy was rehabilitated and ready for return back to the wild, we transported him in a quiet car and released him back to the wild!

Releasing the ruddy duck and an eared grebe. Photo credit: LA Times

Following his release, the media asked “Do you think he is happy to be back home? Do you think he is grateful for being rescued?” Well, to the first question – I’d like to think the answer is yes. If nothing else, he was happy to be out of my hands and back on the open water! But to the second question, I’d have to say no. I don’t think he will look back on his time with us as anything other than a terrifying ordeal he barely survived. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I’ve done hundreds of releases and I’ve never had an animal turn back and give me one last, grateful look before they fly off into the sunset. Plenty of released animals have turned to face me to make sure I’m not chasing them, but alas, no “thank you’s” or “warm wishes” were had. And that is OKAY! Helping these animals recover after an oil spill is our job and we are glad to do it, thanks or no thanks.

Want to make sure you are putting your best foot forward when rescuing a wildlife? Here are 6 ways we can all be better helpers to wildlife in distress:

  1. First question – Does the animal really need my help? Handling a wild animal should always be avoided when possible. Make sure you are intervening as a last resort and that the animal really does require assistance. Is it a baby bird simply learning to fly? Is it a fawn nestled quietly beside a tree? Is it a nest of baby bunnies without a mama in sight? If so, leave them alone! Wildlife rehabilitators are flooded with healthy baby animals every spring who were kidnapped by the well-meaning public. There are many good resources online to help you determine if a wild animal needs your help. Still not sure? Contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center.
  2. Leave the rehabilitation to the experts. Unless you are a permitted wildlife rehabilitator or you are working with one, your job is to get the animal to the people who have the skills, experience, resources, and legal ability to help. Find professional help for injured/orphaned wildlife by clicking here. Do not try to feed or provide medical attention to distressed wildlife without first consulting a rehabilitator.
  3. Keep children and pets away from wildlife! This one always surprises me. What seems like common sense to many is lost on a few. Your cat or dog, no matter how sweet, is not a good companion for the wild animal you are trying to help. Cats have deadly bacteria in their saliva. A single puncture in an animal’s skin will likely bring on a fatal infection. Your dog might be very motherly and want to cuddle the baby bunny, but your neighbor’s dogs might want to eat the bunny. Don’t teach the bunny to be friendly with dogs. And kids. Please don’t encourage your kids to handle injured or orphaned wildlife. Parasites and zoonotic diseases aside, the animal is in need of care by a qualified adult. Unnecessary handling from kids is the last thing it needs.
  4. Safely contain the animal. For most species, the best way to pick them up is by draping a towel over them and gently lifting them up with the towel. Place them into a box with some air holes. You want a box big enough that the animal can easily turn around, but not so large that they have room to jump around. I’ve seen animals arrive to rehabilitation centers in all kinds of wacky containers. Sometimes you’ve got to be creative, but the important thing is using a container. Carrying the animal on your lap prolongs the scariest part of the experience for the animal–handling by humans.
  5. Minimize disturbances. Keep things quiet. Turn off your music in the car while transporting and put your barking dog away. Dim the lights if possible. If you aren’t able to transport the injured animal right away place their container in quiet spot. There’s no need to check on the animal every five minutes. Doing so is only going to stress them further.
  6. Try to prevent human-wildlife conflicts. Often times, human activity is the root cause of a wild animal’s injury. Whether they’ve been contaminated during an oil spill, attacked by a domestic cat, collided with a window, ate a poisoned rat, or were hit by a car, today’s wildlife face an unprecedented number of threats due to the actions of humans. Consider how your daily routine, home, and pets might be a positive or negative impact on wildlife. Being a helper to wildlife can come in many forms!

To all of you out there who have been helpers of wildlife–we salute you! Whether the animal thanked you with a hiss, a scratch, a well-aimed poop, or in no way at all–I’d just like to say:

Thank you.

– Sam

A little bird with a BIG impact

Over the past two months you’ve heard a lot about the Pipeline P00547 oil spill. The spill has been featured in hundreds of news articles (local and national) as well as on social media and our very own OWCN blog posts. Thank you to Jennie and Danene for highlighting the hard work of our first and foremost VIP’s (very important people) of the spill, the 90+ field and care responders representing approximately 1/3 of our member orgs. I’d like to take this blogging opportunity to highlight the other VIP’s (very important patients) of the Pipeline P00547 spill, the western snowy plovers.

All about Our Western Snowy VIPlovers

The western snowy plovers (Charadrius nivosus) were the smallest patients in our care throughout the spill, weighing in at a whopping 35-40g, or roughly the size of a large chicken egg. The Pacific population of these little shorebirds can range from southern Washington, all the way down to Baja California, Mexico.

Western snowy plovers can be spotted year-round on coastal beaches, peninsulas, and even bays, estuaries or river outlets up to 50 miles inland. You might find them displaying the classic “run-stop-peck” in which they forage for crustaceans, worms, and other small marine invertebrates that they find in wet sand and kelp. When they are not running along the shoreline, snowy plovers seemingly disappear into their surrounding landscape. Western snowy plovers are masters of camouflage with their sand-colored feathers along the top part of their body and sand-speckled appearance of their eggs.

Masters of camouflage….

Snowy plover clutches typically contain 3 eggs and some plovers can lay two clutches per year. Females may breed with more than one male. In fact, after their eggs hatch they will often leave chick rearing duties to the male in order to re-nest with another male if there is adequate time left in the season. Snowy plovers display high site fidelity, and are often spotted at the same nesting locations year after year. Snowy plovers communicate to each other with “chirp-like” calls. They also use body language, such as drooping a wing or limping to signal the presence of a predator. Click here to listen to some common snowy plover calls.

Did you know that newborn snowy plovers leave their nest within 3 hours of hatching and immediately begin foraging on their own?

So, why was this little bird such a big deal? Well, in 1993 the Pacific population of western snowy plovers was listed as federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Factors such as human disturbance, predation, inclement weather and encroachment due to urban development have played a large role in the decline of active nesting sites, and subsequently reproduction. From March to September snowy plovers establish nesting sites in small depressions in the sand. Human activities such as walking, jogging, off-leash pets, horseback riding and vehicle use can disturb these sites resulting in nest abandonment. Goals of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Western snowy plover Recovery plan include: (1) achieving well-distributed increases in numbers and productivity of breeding adult birds, and (2) providing for long-term protection of breeding and wintering plovers and their habitat.

Left: Oiled western snowy plover; Center: Stabilization enclosure; Right: Western snowy plover being examined by veterinarian prior to release. Photo credits OWCN/UC Davis

Even though western snowy plovers don’t live in water, oil can still have a big impact on their ability to waterproof and therefore thermoregulate. Given their small stature and nearly non-existent fat stores, they rely on their feather structure to keep warm, especially during inclement weather. When western snowy plovers get cold they have to expend their energy getting warm, instead of foraging for food or running away from predators. They can quickly become emaciated and dehydrated, resulting in severe debilitation. During the Pipeline P00547 spill, our initial snowy plover care focused on getting these tiny patients warm, hydrated and eating. Once stabilized we were able to focus on secondary concerns including skin burns and minor injuries.

Fortunately all 7 of our VIPatients made a full recovery and were released back to their native habitats where they can continue to contribute to the recovery of the Pacific population of western snowy plovers!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the safe capture, care and release of these special little birds!

For more information about the western snowy plovers we cared for during the Pipeline P00547 oil spill check out this video and article by UC Davis.

~ Jamie, owcn response veterinarian

Reflections from the Pipeline P00547 Primary Care Facility

As we begin to wrap-up primary care operations at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care & Education Center (LAOBCEC) I can’t help but reflect on the amazing effort that the OWCN responders have put into the Pipeline P00547 incident. Since being activated, our Network responders have worked tirelessly to meet the OWCN’s mission of providing “best achievable capture and care to oil affected wildlife”. 

Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center, Managed by OWCN Member Organization International Bird Rescue.
Photo: Danene Birtell, OWCN

To put that into numbers, since the beginning of October, approximately 90 unique responders have clocked over 6,000 hours of time directly working with and for the animals collected during this event. More than half of those hours represented the dedicated team of individuals that were assigned to the Care & Processing Group. This Group was responsible for the documentation and rehabilitation of any animal that our incredible Field Operations Group sent our way. We were met with some unique challenges (or injects as we like to call them during drill time) and I am honored to have worked alongside such a dedicated and talented group of individuals. 

Photo: Eunah Preston, OWCN

With that, I thought it would be great for our readers to get a first-hand glimpse to what it’s like to be an OWCN responder. Here’s what a few of them had to say regarding how they got involved with the OWCN.

I became a member of the OWCN back in 2008 when I started working at International Bird Rescue. International Bird Rescue is one of the primary care facilities and long-term members of the network.  Since then, I have participated in the numerous online webinar courses and in-person training opportunities provided by the OWCN.”

Kylie Clatterbuck, International Bird Rescue

“The organization I work for, Point Blue Conservation Science (Point Blue), has been responding to oil spills since 1971, playing a lead role in many spills in oiled wildlife processing (species identification, data and evidence collection, and evidence management). In 1997, after I had just completed an internship with Point Blue, I was offered the opportunity to respond to the Kure spill in Humboldt Bay, and that was my first response, conducting wildlife processing. At that time the work was done by Point Blue under OSPR but in close collaboration with OWCN. Shortly thereafter, processing fell directly under OWCN’s umbrella and we began to work even more closely together and have ever since. I’ve been responding to spills for 24 years now, and during much of this time I have been the response and preparedness coordinator for Point Blue, one of OWCN’s many member organizations.”

Diana Humple, Point Blue Conservation Science

“I got involved with OWCN back in 2015 during the Refugio Oil Spill Incident.  I had been volunteering at the International Bird Rescue (IBR) Center in San Pedro at the time of the spill, having been working in the capacity of animal care/support volunteer since 2014.  During the spill response, I served under the guidance of OWCN and IBR staff at the IBR center, assisting with washing oiled wildlife and providing overall clinic support.  I decided to take my 24-hour HAZWOPER Training subsequent to that as well as the OWCN Basic Responder Training to ensure that I would be eligible to be activated to the field should volunteers be needed for help in another oil spill response.”

Diana Burke, OWCN Responder 

Dr. Duane Tom & Kylie Clatterbuck examine a western grebe. Photo: OWCN

Depending on the complexity of a response there may be just a few or many roles to fill. As the response expands and contracts individuals may be asked to shift around, sometimes filling multiple roles to meet the demands of the incident, such as those described below.

“During Pipeline P00547 I was part of the animal care staff who stabilized, washed, and conditioned the animals affected by the oil spill for release back into the wild. As Center Manager of International Bird Rescue, I also worked on logistics and alongside the OWCN team members to coordinate responders.”

Kylie Clatterbuck

      “Care Vet and Intake and Processing” (Duane also worked as Wildlife Recovery Staff and was the Field Stabilization Group Supervisor before joining the team at the Primary Care Facility.)

Dr. Duane Tom, UC Davis/OWCN Management Team

“I was the Processing Strike Team Lead, overseeing a small team of biologists who conducted the species identification, data and evidence collection, and evidence management of the oiled wildlife – predominantly the birds – collected during the response. We were responsible for doing this for all the birds found dead, while working alongside the Care staff to help collect this for the live birds, in order to allow them to focus as much as possible on the animal care side of things.”

Diana Humple

“My role at the Primary Care Facility was to assist the OWCN and IBR oil spill responder staff with anything they needed, whether that be assisting in replacing and refilling buckets of water during a bird wash, setting up or cleaning enclosures, preparing food and gavages for tube feeding, etc.”

Diana Burke

Diana Humple and Dr. Jamie Sherman examine a Snowy Plover. Photo: OWCN

Emergency response can be challenging yet rewarding. When asked to reflect on their favorite and most challenging part of the response here’s what members of our team had to say:

“The hardest part is the need for speed, efficiency, and accuracy that are all critical to a successful response, and the pressure that comes from working in such an environment. The pressure can be intense during a response, but it also a challenge that it is exciting to have to rise to, as it is a privilege to be able to participate in this capacity and to know that ultimately what we are doing is in the best interest of the wildlife impacted and to future wildlife and natural resources.”

“Although it didn’t take place at the Primary Care Facility, probably my favorite experience was when I was able to attend the release on Huntington Beach of some of the Snowy Plovers and Sanderlings that had been rehabilitated and cleaned.”

Diana Humple

“One of my favorite parts of the response was getting the chance to work more closely with Snowy Plovers. I also really enjoyed getting to meet and work more closely with many of the newer team members of the OWCN.”

“The hardest part of any response is taking the time to insure you are maintaining a good self-care routine.”

Kylie Clatterbuck

Favorite Part: Getting to work with all the great people at IBR” 

Hardest Part: “The intricacies of Processing.  And NOAA Chain of Custody forms!”

Dr. Duane Tom

“One of my favorite experiences during the response was my assignment as a field operations volunteer.  I reported for duty at the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center field operations staging area in Huntington Beach and was paired up with an amazing veterinarian from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Dr. Alissa Deming, to survey a designated part of the beach looking for oiled wildlife.”

“Undoubtedly, the hardest part of the oil spill response for me was having to accept that it is not always possible to rescue every bird which may need care.”

Diana Burke

Kylie Clatterbuck & Samantha Christie release a ruddy duck and eared grebe. Photo: Paul Beresbach, Orange County Register

After each response we go through a process of outlining “what we learned”, “what went well”, and “what can we do to improve future responses”, AKA the “hotwash”. Following this process, we always walk away with lessons learned, such as:

“I had better be sure to get the species correct the first time for processing because correcting it after the fact is very involved!”

Dr. Duane Tom

“For me, I learned to slow down a bit and take the time needed to provide for these nuances and appreciate the challenges that come with each type of animal.”

Kylie Clatterbuck

            “A million! I am so impressed by how prepared California is to respond to oil spills, and how seriously the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, that I am a part of, takes that preparedness; in fact, we do a lot of work outside of actual spill response so that we can meet the next event with an even stronger response, and even better “best practices”.

Diana Humple

“The number one lesson learned was that although I strive to do my best as a responder, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will always be possible for me to rescue all wildlife which I come across in an oil spill response. It is a heartbreaking fact, but it’s something I have had to learn to accept.”

Diana Burke

As we approach the final phase of the response, Demobilization, I reflect on how fortunate we are to have the support of CDFW-OSPR and our amazing Network of responders. We thank YOU for your ongoing dedication to the OWCN’s mission.

Dr. Jamie Sherman examines a western grebe. Photo: OWCN

I’d also like to give an extra special shout out to our Care Veterinarian, Dr. Jamie Sherman who is the currently the last deployed responder. She is currently in San Pedro providing care and veterinary oversight for the last few patients. 

Take care, and for those who were deployed – get well deserved some rest!


Danene Birtell, Readiness Coordinator – Care Operations

Notes From the Field: Orange County Spill

Although the Pipeline P00547 Incident has not quite come to a close, the majority of the field recovery teams have been sent home. We still have a few “hotshot” teams on standby to respond to calls of confirmed oiled animal sightings, but the rest of us have been demobilized to blend back into our everyday lives. Thus, I want to take this opportunity to highlight some of the incredible people who helped make our field response to this oil spill possible.

There were about 37 responders from our network from various member organizations who helped in the recovery of oiled wildlife, both dead and alive, throughout the duration of our field response. Each responder was immensely valuable to our recovery efforts, and I’d like to share some unique perspectives and experiences of several of them. So, sit down, relax, grab a cup of coffee, and let your imagination wander to the Southern California coastline as our responders take you along the beaches of Orange County.

Field teams attending the daily safety briefing. Photo Credit: Eunah Preston

Steffani Jarrett, CIMWI :

“We were sent to the harbor docks to check on an injured and oiled pelican.  By the time we arrived the bird had moved to the bait dock, which, unfortunately was only accessible by boat.  After a few calls, the harbor patrol agreed to give us a ride.  As we approached the dock, the deputies told us (a little late) that the bait dock workers don’t like them and will not allow them to dock.  After some shouting, we were allowed to dock, and the pelican jumped in the water as soon as we stepped on the dock.  Using fish bribes from Wetlands Wildlife we were able to safely capture the pelican.  The last hurdle was that the bird was very cold, and our crate only fit in the truck bed.  So, we wrapped the bird in towels and wedged it into a cardboard container and transported it in the backseat for treatment.   Despite all our troubles, the pelican did not appreciate our efforts and displayed its frustrations. However, we felt good knowing it was going to get the help it needed.”  

Tamara Tamburro, CIMWI & now, new PMMC volunteer too:

“I’m a grandma who decided to get her Masters in conservation biology late in life. I moved to Ventura during the UME for sea lions and started volunteering for CIMWI. While at CIMWI I became involved with OWCN. I have been training with you guys for several years hoping you wouldn’t need me, but ready if you ever made the call. I just moved to Newport Beach 3 months before this awful spill happened. I live in the Bluffs above Upper Newport Bay so this happened in my new “backyard.” I was very motivated to help, and I got partnered with Susan (Kaveggia) from IBR. It was awesome working with a bird expert; I think we made a great team. We walked lots of miles, got super tired, and I made a new friend. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but hope I never have to. We thankfully didn’t find any oiled wildlife, but it was still an amazing experience just being there. I think the thing that touched me most was all the donated food, including goodie bags.”

Colleen Young, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (OSPR):

“I had a funny interaction with a reporting party who had called to report an oiled bird to the hotline. I called the reporting party back to get more info about an “oiled duck” in Newport Harbor they had seen. When I told him I was calling him about the oiled duck he reported, he said, ‘It’s not a duck but it’s a bird type duck.’ Thanks, that really clears it up! When I asked him if it looked oiled, he said he wasn’t sure but ‘he’s been in the same facility for over 24 hours, and that seems highly unusual.’ Riiiiiight…whatever that means! With that kind of great information, you can imagine we weren’t that surprised when the animal turned out not to be oiled and not to be a duck, but rather the juvenile yellow-crowned night heron that had been frequenting that area. We were glad that it didn’t end up being oiled and to have a chance to see a new bird (we don’t have them on the central coast and from what I understand they are somewhat rare in southern CA as well).”

Gayle Uyehara, UC Davis Wildlife Health Center:

While deployed, what were the days like? 

  • Hot…… I got the hot days……

What was the hardest part? 

  • Trying to keep pushing through the heat and towards the end of my support, the long day walking.

What was your favorite part? 

  • Getting to work with a longtime family friend (Susan Kaveggia) doing something we are both passionate about and knowing we had each other’s six. Our rescue experience adds up to many years so if there was something to be found, alive or dead, I had confidence we would find it in our search areas. 

Did you use any special techniques to capture something?

  • No, but we did have a method to our searching – and parking in a strategic spot while back-tracking to the car (basically hop-scotching ahead to park) allowed us to make sure we covered our area.

What aspect was the most fun?

  • Actually, learning about the coastal area (specifically the 4 marshes we covered) to the point where I’ll go back and join the local conservancy group in order to draw and paint the endangered flora.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience?

  • I forgot what it was like for the general public and their genuine thankfulness that we were there for the birds took me by surprise. I know we train in the event of a spill but there are rewards that go beyond the ability to help the animals during a spill. 

Carleton Eyster, Point Blue Conservation Science:

While deployed, what were your days like? 

  • Awesome! From start to finish.

What was the hardest part? 

  • Navigating the hundreds of cleanup personnel (& vehicles!!:) while trying to target individual oiled birds. Isolating a bird for capture is hard enough on a quiet beach, with no disturbance, and is usually best done with just one or two people.

What was your favorite part? 

  • The amazing coordination and dedication of so many people for a united cause! Our final capture of the hard-luck banded female exemplified this effort, with 5 or 6 of us, from different orgs and parts of the state, collectively herding her over the noose mats! Just brilliant! Oh, and the best Philly Cheesesteak west of Philadelphia!

What aspect was the most fun? 

  • Seeing a net gun used successfully on a small shorebird (two, in fact!).

An oiled Snowy plover captured by Carleton Eyster. Photo credit: OWCN

Monica Frank, International Bird Rescue – South:

“The most ‘interesting’ day I had was with Susan Kaveggia when we unknowingly walked a nude beach!  We went down to San Onofre State Beach and after walking the length of that beach decided to check the southern end on Camp Pendleton property.  As we started to walk the trail one gentleman in front of us said he’d be “respectful” and wait for us to pass before he undressed.  Not quite sure what he meant by that, we then started to see bare bums and knew what we were in for!  We stayed on mission with eyes focused on the shoreline.  One friendly gentleman walking towards us with only his walking stick stopped us to ask us about the spill.  We kindly engaged in conversation with eyes up!

It was my first time being deployed for Wildlife Recovery and I really enjoyed it.  Though I didn’t capture any live oiled birds, I enjoyed contributing to the recovery efforts by recording the flighted oiled birds seen, picking up dead birds and walking miles and miles of beach.  And it was nice to go to beaches I’d never been to before.”

Maria Gracza, SeaWorld San Diego:

“I was deployed within the first few days of our oil spill response, and it was a memorable experience. I am very experienced in marine mammal rescue, and very inexperienced with bird rescue. Upon seeing my first oiled bird, I was determined to catch it. Unfortunately, birds are very hard to capture when they still have good use of their wings and can fly far away. After a few failed attempts the first day of capturing oiled birds, I was feeling a little defeated, although I still had scoured miles of beaches collecting important data. The next morning, I found an oiled western gull who happened to have some fishing line around its body so its flying abilities were impacted. After running around on the beach for what seemed like a very long time, I was eventually able to net it and transport it back to Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center for stabilization. It was a great feeling and made the miles of scouring the beaches afterwards more enjoyable! I would help with another oil spill anytime.”