Oiled Wildlife Care Network

photo: common murre in rehabilitation pool
The OWCN is examining how seabirds fare in freshwater.

In-House Research

Every oiled wildlife response is different and highlights ways the rehabilitation process can be improved. This might range from improving medical record management with an electronic database to improving caging for animals.

While projects funded by the Competitive Grants Program often address more complex questions, the OWCN's in-house research program focuses on incremental improvements that can immediately impact oiled wildlife capture and care. Examples of our recent work include:

Electronic Medical Records

One of the big challenges in oiled wildlife response is tracking the large amount of information collected on each animal in care. This begins in the field when animals are captured and extends throughout the rehabilitation process. Developing a database to collect and manage this information is a priority goal that the OWCN staff are actively working to achieve. Currently we are evaluating a number of existing systems to determine their ability to meet our needs. This system has been partially funded through the generosity of the San Francisco Foundation.


Feeding birds and mammals in an emergency situation presents numerous challenges. The OWCN is working to compare the nutrition, tolerance, digestibility and assimilation of different manufactured diets for seabirds. Oiled birds are often emaciated, and of the first steps in their care is to provide high quality nutrion through easily digested, manufactured liquid diets.


Oiled birds are often dehydrated when captured because they become cold and come ashore where they have no water to drink. The OWCN is engaged in a project to compare the relative effectiveness of water, IV saline solution, and powdered electrolyte solutions for rehydrating seabirds. The results will improve treatment outcomes and make it easier to keep facilities stocked and ready for a spill.

Fresh Water Captivity

When seabirds are kept in fresh water during rehabilitation, they drink fresh rather than salt water. The OWCN is investigating whether the specialized glands that remove ingested salt are affected by a few weeks of disuse. This study may result in modifications to housing or treatments for these birds to improve long-term survival when they are returned to the wild.

Pool Filtering

Birds spend up to two weeks in rehabilitation pools. As they excrete digested fish oil, it floats to the surface and can contaminate feathers and ruin waterproofing. One way to get rid of it is to continuously overflow water at the pool's surface. This removes the oil but is expensive and wastes water. The OWCN staff have successfully tested filters to remove fish oil so water can be returned to the pool and conserved.

Soft-sided Pens

Using a concept originated by staff of International Bird Rescue, the OWCN has worked to develop small, light-weight, soft-sided holding pens for pelagic bird species. These are easier for personnel to move and clean, and the soft-sides offer less risk of injury to more active species. The OWCN has manufactured large numbers of pens for use during responses.