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by Gwen Hubner
With flocks of pigeons on sidewalks, gulls flying overhead, ducks floating in every pond, and the loud call of the American Robin ushering in each morning, it is easy to forget the many threats facing California birds. Urban expansion into native habitat, predation by domestic cats and depletion of essential resources due to pollution are just some of the pressures.
Luckily, California is home to International Bird Rescue (www.bird-rescue.org). With two wildlife care centers (one in the Los Angeles area and one in the San Francisco Bay area in Fairfield), a group of bird care specialists operates with the motto “every bird matters.” The organization has responded to more than 200 oil spills and saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of birds since it was founded in 1971.
Bay Area Parent spoke with director emeritus Jay Holcomb about ways for families to become bird- friendly conservationists.
Monofilament line, the type used by fisherman, does not decompose. Once it is in the ocean, it is there for good. Pelicans and gulls come close to shore following schools of anchovies and get caught in this line, which can end up killing them.
Another issue, of course, is water pollution. There is a relatively new type of pollution, called domoic acid poisoning, which was identified only nine or 10 years ago. In 2002, this poison moved up the food chain during an algal bloom and resulted in birds having seizures and falling out of the sky. This could potentially be related to global warming or could also be related to increased animal waste entering ocean ecosystems.
Much of our work is around developing and implementing techniques to save birds affected by oil spills. Our care centers conduct clinical work and research that significantly increases the rate of survival for birds exposed to oil. We take in around 600 pelicans a year and release 300-400 a year.
Birds are really fun because there are so many different types and so many different niches that they live in. For this reason, it is really easy to turn bird watching into a game. Get a bird guide and take your kids to a place where there are lots of different birds – along the coast or at a harbor to look at sea and shore birds, or to ponds and lakes to look at ducks and geese.
There is also really nothing wrong with feeding birds if you do it responsibly. There are fun ways to help augment the diet of birds by replacing what they have lost in the wild. If you are feeding ducks at a pond, don’t give them white bread. Rather, give them seeds. You can also make a good birdfeeder for your backyard using a pinecone, lard or suet and birdfeed.
Do simple things, like bringing a bag and a small pair of scissors when you take a walk near the ocean. Pick up any of that monofilament line that you find, cut it up into small pieces and throw it away. Picking up any trash is great, too. Little pieces of plastic easily find their way out to sea and become a harmful snack to an albatross.
And then, there is always reading to your kids in order to teach them about conservation. One book I particularly like is Patti Pelican and The Gulf Oil Spill by Lynda Deninger. It’s great because it is fun for kids, but also completely factual.
Gwen Hubner is a bird lover and senior at UC Berkeley.
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