Washing Oiled Wildlife

Washing OIled Wildlife

Everyone's first instinct when they see oiled wildlife is to wash them.  But the moment birds become oiled, they start preening their feathers and ingesting the oil.  Depending on the amount ingested, the internal effects caused by petroleum and its additives can be as damaging as the external effects.  The bird will probably have nausea and be dehydrated, but it could also have GI ulcerations and hemoraging.  The cleaning process is extremely stressful and exhausting for wildlife, so the "inside" has to be in good shape before we can work on the "outside".  Imagine having the stomach flu (or worse), and someone forcibly washes and rinses you from head to toe 6 times in a row over the course of an hour and a half.  If you have to be washed, you'd at least like to wait until you feel a tad bit better.  So for the first 24 hours following capture, oiled wildlife receive treatment for the ingestion of petroleum and the petroleum additives, lots of fluids and nutrition, and are observed to ensure "things" are working right.

When it comes time to be washed, we immerse a bird's body into a tub of water at a specific temperature with a specific amount of detergent to "lift" off the oil.  A volunteer gently brushes the solution through the bird's feathers on its head and neck.  Then water and detergent is gently worked into all feathers on the body until the water becomes soiled, then we move onto the next tub.  Washing continues until there is no more oil being lifted from the feathers and the water in the tub remains clean and oil-free. 

Then comes the rinsing process.  The detergent can be as harmful to a bird's feathers as the oil, so as much effort goes into removing the detergent.  This time we use tubs of clean, warm water and repeat until there are no more suds or detergent in the tub. Afterward, a quick rinse with a pressurized nozzle helps realign feathers and water begins to bead on the feathers.

Birds then go to a quiet, warm spot to dry off and relax.  And afterward, they are moved to pens where they can preen their feathers and restore  waterproofing.

As important as the well being of the birds is the well being and safety of our volunteers.  Before participating, volunteers attend an orientation that briefs them about disasters, the risks associated with hazardous materials, personal safety, and the cleaning process and protocol.  To protect them from the potential exposure to oil and fumes, they wear protective clothing, gloves and masks when washing wildlife.  Goggles may also be required before working with certain species. 

In responding to spills and the wildlife clean up effort, we give preference to existing VBSPCA Wildlife Program volunteers, as well as new volunteers that have the appropriate FEMA and OSHA HazMat or HazWoper certification. Attendance of our Disaster Response orientation is mandatory.  Depending on the scale of the spill, a mandatory 4 hour OSHA class may also be required.

If you are interested in volunteering to help with the rescue, transport or rehabilitation of wildlife, please contact us online.

If you would like to participate in a future spill response, we recommend the following courses:

The following free online courses are available at http://training.fema.gov/is/crslist.aspx?page=1

FEMA IS-11.a

FEMA IS-10.a
FEMA IS-100.b
FEMA IS-111.a