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Home  |   Our Work  |   Aquatic Bird Rehabilitation  |   Our Process for Helping Oiled Birds

Our Process for Helping Oiled Birds

It is the work we do every day that keeps International Bird Rescue prepared to meet the challenges of an oiled wildlife emergency.

Many oiled birds die because well-meaning people, anxious to remove the oil from feathers, wash them immediately, resulting in extreme stress. It is actually more important to give oiled birds the much-needed nutrition, hydration and medical treatment they need to regain their strength before they are washed.

Our trained staff and volunteers use these criteria for wash and rinse:

Because cleaning a bird can be a stressful and life-threatening event, the goal is to wash each oiled bird only once, and it is crucial that it is healthy enough to handle the washing ordeal.



Once stable, oiled birds go through a series of tub washes with a low concentration of Dawn dishwashing liquid in clean water. International Bird Rescue conducted research on most of the commonly available cleaning agents and Dawn was the one that had the ability to remove most oils, was effective at low concentrations, non-irritating to the skin and eyes, rinsed quickly from feathers, and was easily accessible.

Procter and Gamble now donates all of the Dawn detergent used by International Bird Rescue and many other rehabilitation organizations throughout the world.



After washing, the bird is taken to a separate rinsing area where a special nozzle is used to completely rinse the solution from the feathers. The rinsing process is just as important as the wash, because any detergent or solution left on the feathers can impair the natural waterproofing process. Specially-designed spa nozzles are used that propel the water at sufficient pressure to remove all traces of detergent from the bird's feathers.



After the wash and rinse, the cleaned bird is placed in a protective net-bottomed pen equipped with commercial pet grooming dryers. As the bird rests comfortably under the grooming dryer, it will begin to preen its own feathers back into place. The complete realignment of feathers in a tight overlapping pattern creates a natural waterproof seal.

The bird is tube fed a nutritious food mixture to assure proper nourishment, plenty of fluids and vitamins, and is allowed free access to food. Its progress is carefully monitored by rehabilitation personnel to assure continuing health and safety.



When the bird is completely dry, it is placed in a warm water therapy pool where it continues to preen and bathe. It is closely monitored for floating/swimming ability, general alertness, and progress toward waterproofing. The bird will be re-dried and returned to the warm pool repeatedly until its waterproofing improves sufficiently, and it can be graduated to a cold water pool.

These are outdoor diving pools, where the bird can be in a water-based environment full-time, and can continue to feed, preen, and behave normally. The bird is carefully monitored by trained personnel including a wildlife veterinarian.



An oiled bird is released when it is completely stable, healthy, and when its waterproofing is determined to be flawless. An aquatic bird must be perfectly waterproof prior to release or it will not survive in the wild. The bird must exhibit normal feeding, swimming, and diving behavior, and have proper weight/blood values for their species.

Before release, the bird is banded with a stainless steel US Fish and Wildlife Service leg band. This allows for future identification and aids International Bird Rescue in its research. It is only released to an area unaffected by oil and approved by State and Federal Trustees. If the area that it was captured in is still oiled, then it may be transported to a more remote location for release.


Preparedness for the Next Emergency

International Bird Rescue maintains two year-round aquatic bird rescue centers in California, which care for over 5,000 birds every year. Our staff's skills are tested daily, and our techniques are continuously refined.

One of the biggest problems in rehabilitating wildlife during an emergency is inadequate (or the complete lack of) facilities to properly care for animals where the oil spills take place. International Bird Rescue brings some medical supplies and specialized equipment to the site of oil spills. This equipment is stored at our centers and other locations around the U.S. and is shipped to the spill site as needed. Other items are purchased during the spill.

Once on site, there is a lot of work and coordination to be done in a very short amount of time to ensure that each bird receives the care that it needs.


How Oil Affects Birds

How even a small amount of oil on birds' feathers can be deadly.

How Does International Bird Rescue Help Oiled Birds?

Learn about the process of rehabilitating oiled birds.