Sticky substance kills two dozen seabirds

A sticky and unidentified substance has killed 25 birds in the East Bay since Friday and is threatening more than 150, an animal shelter official said Monday.

As of Sunday evening, there were 179 birds coated in the mysterious substance but animal rescue experts said they don’t know what the coating is:

Barbara Callahan, International Bird Rescue executive director, said in a statement on Saturday:

“We have not seen this type of substance before and tests have shown it is not petroleum-based.”

Staff from the East Bay Regional Park District notified the nonprofit late Friday of many birds covered in the material, bird rescue officials said.

The birds were found at multiple sites on land and water in the East Bay including Crab Cove Visitor Center in Alameda, Hayward Regional Shoreline and at the San Leandro Marina, according to the nonprofit.

Collection teams also found birds in the substance near the Bay Farm Island Shoreline Trail in Alameda, nonprofit officials said. Surf Scoters, Buffleheads, Horned Grebes and Common Goldeneyes were among the types of seabirds being treated by the nonprofit at its Fairfield wild rescue center.

Callahan said:

“Our staff veterinarian and wildlife rehabilitation team is working overtime to ensure all birds transported to us receive optimal emergency care.”

Nonprofit officials have described the substance as “vicious,” similar to petroleum, and clear to pale in color. The substance breaks down a bird’s feather structure, preventing the animal from regulating its body temperature in the Bay Area’s cold water, resulting in hypothermia or death.

Animal shelter staff has not determined if the material is toxic but officials said staff is using the same safety precautions they would use to treat animals from an oil spill. On Saturday, staff members coated feather samples with the substance but were unable to remove it.

On Sunday they have had some success in washing the contaminated birds with baking soda, vinegar, a pre-treatment solution and Dawn dishwashing liquid, which is used on birds in need of treatment after oil spills, Callahan said.

Callahan said Monday:

“The good news is that we have modified our wash protocol and it appears to be working on healthier birds.”

Monday, the team with the nonprofit expected to wash about 40 to 60 of the seabirds and predicted they would receive more covered in the substance, Callahan said:

“However, some of the birds that have recently arrived are in much poorer condition, likely because they’ve had this substance on their feathers for several days now.”

The seabirds must receive a week’s worth of care before they are considered for release, she said. An investigation is underway looking into whether the material may be polyisobutylene, a sticky, odorless substance lacking in color that killed thousands of seabirds in the U.K. in 2013, Callahan said.

The nonprofit is paying the emergency care costs for the birds out if its own pocket and seeking donations from the public that can be made by mail to International Bird Rescue at 4369 Cordelia Road in Fairfield or online at http://www.birdrescue.org.

Anyone who suspects they found a bird covered in the substance can report the sighting online at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1w0vnSp8FDmBajS_SMSDZD-9eWzouUT-nhzKoatQjrWU/viewform?c=0&w=1.

Officials from International Bird Rescue said law enforcement officials from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife were also notified of the incident and are investigating. Several of the dead birds were taken to the CDFW Wildlife Investigation Lab in Sacramento, where staff will perform a necropsy to determine the cause of death.

Members of Wildlife Emergency Services, an animal emergency response nonprofit, have searched and rescued birds with the mysterious substance in Hayward, according to executive director Rebecca Dmytryk. The public is advised to not attempt to capture the birds and to report sightings to the organization’s pager at (831) 429-2323.