Volunteers clean up flocks of fouled fowl

The Peninsula Humane Society has treated more than 20 birds in the days after the 58,000-gallon spill caused by a ship that hit the Bay Bridge during a foggy morning last week. Although most of the affected water birds come from the Bay, oil-covered animals have begun popping up on the coast.

Standing at Pillar Point Harbor in El Granada on Monday, Marine Mammal Center volunteer Sue Pemberton was trying to catch an oiled grebe that kept scurrying between water and land. Just as it was about to settle on the beach, a boy let his dogs run loose and the scared bird ran back into the water. Pemberton, who lives in Pacifica, has already caught nine birds on the city’s beaches.

The oil spill is affecting many animals across the Bay, but the situation is especially dire with grebes, loons and surf scoters that use waterproof feathers to stay warm on the cold ocean waters.

“They lose their ability to stay warm because the oil compromises the waterproofness of their feathers and the water is pretty cold out there,” Pemberton said.

In a storage room at the Peninsula Humane Society, where Pemberton has been delivering the birds, three oil-covered grebes sat in cages waiting to be transported to the rescue center. The volunteers have been feeding the grebes and keeping them warm in order to prepare them for the stressful cleaning procedure.

“We saw pelicans flying and were telling them, ‘keep south, don’t stop here’,” said Susan Kelly, manager of wildlife services at the Peninsula Humane Society. “It’s frustrating that these instances still occur, but we are also excited to be part of the rescue.”

The number of water birds injured and killed by the oil spilled Wednesday from the Cosco Busan continues to rise throughout the Bay Area. International Bird Rescue Research Center, which is collecting the affected birds, announced Monday that it has 545 birds in its care, 126 of which have been washed but not released.

The center has also collected 369 dead birds. As different agencies and citizens continue to bring in the birds, the center is not breaking the numbers down by county. It is unclear how many birds have been found in San Mateo County.

Before getting to the research center, where the birds may stay for up to 10 days, many go through clearing houses such as the Peninsula Humane Society in Burlingame before being sent up to the center in Fairfield.

svasilyuk@examiner.com

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