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Learning to clean oily birds

Special training for oily birds


Volunteers gathered in Wimauma recently to practice how to rescue oil-soaked seabirds. The process will become important if the massive gulf oil spill washes onto Florida's shores. But cleaning wild birds can cause them almost as much stress as oil. By doing it wrong, people could actually clean a bird to death. Lee Fox of Save Our Seabirds trained volunteers from different Florida wildlife groups that are ready to step in and help with the cleanup, if needed. They used four dead seabirds slathered in olive oil to simulate crude oil. But the simulation wasn't entirely accurate — dead birds won't peck at your eyes.

Washing oil-soaked birds takes many hands. In this training session with a dead bird, Lee Fox of Save Our Seabirds sprays clean warm water while Cyndi Seamon, left, holds the bird and Maya Trotman holds its beak.

The bathwater: Birds are washed in as many as 12 tubs of water with different concentrations of Dawn soap, which Fox said has proved the best. The water is warmed to 104 degrees, the birds' approximate body heat.

Avoid being pecked: "The bird is very, very stressed, and he will bite at you," Fox explained while demonstrating a safe way to hold a bird's beak. The oil is cleaned off with a toothbrush.

All clean? Workers will try to finish cleaning the birds in 45 minutes. They will look for this sign of success: Water beading up on the on the bird's feathers, not from oil but from its natural waterproofing.

Wild animals don't like to be handled, and will struggle to get away, making the whole process an exhausting ordeal. "He will stress out so much he could die in your hands," Fox said. In some cases, cleaning can do more harm than good, so she and other experts urge people not to try cleaning animals on their own, unless they have received training from experts. The dead birds for this training came from the Save Our Seabirds' wildlife rehabilitation center in Sarasota. For more information, go to The group has not scheduled another training session in the Tampa Bay area, but people can get more information by emailing

Learning to clean oily birds 06/02/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 3, 2010 8:50am]
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