On June 10, 2014, renowned wildlife rehabilitator and International Bird Rescue Executive Director Jay Holcomb passed away after a serious illness. Considered a giant in the field of bird rescue and rehabilitation, Jay helped pioneer techniques to improve the survival rate of animals rescued from oil spills, harmful algal blooms, and other marine disasters. Several years ago, we interviewed Jay about his lifelong devotion to birds and wildlife . . . .
After 40 years of quietly working to rescue thousands of oiled birds and animals around the world, in 2010 Jay Holcomb became nationally known during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, thanks to news coverage of bird rehabilitation efforts in the Gulf. That year, he was also named Oceana’s Ocean Hero. Here Jay discusses the influences that inspired his life’s work, and his International Bird Rescue’s motto “Every bird matters.”
BN: Are you originally from the Bay Area?
JH: I was born in San Francisco and lived there until I was 9. We then moved to San Anselmo in Marin County and I lived there until I graduated from high school.
BN: What are some of your childhood memories of interacting with birds and wildlife?
JH: Moving to Marin County was magical for me. We were the last house in a cul-de-sac on top of a hill that was surrounded by nature. I lived the rest of my childhood exploring those hills and observing the wildlife there.
BN: What originally inspired you to make a career of wildlife rehabilitation?
JH: For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by wild animals and wanted to be of service to them. Wildlife rehabilitation did not exist in a formal way when I was a kid, but when I found orphaned, oiled, and injured wild animals, I did what I could to get them back into nature. After high school graduation I went to work at the Marin Humane Society and discovered that there were many wild animals that needed help, so I began rehabilitating them.
BN: What do you view as Bird Rescue’s greatest success?
JH:This is our 40th anniversary and a good time to look back. Our founder, Alice Berkner, and I agreed that this organization was and should be for the birds and about the birds, with every action taken to be in their best interest. In 40 years we have never wavered from that premise. We have honored them, cared for them, and have helped a countless number of birds and other animals.
BN: What are some current challenges Bird Rescue faces?
JH: Besides oil spills that are unpredictable but ongoing, the main challenge facing shoreline and pelagic birds are fluctuations in ocean temperatures that appear to have numerous harmful effects, such as the stimulation of massive algae blooms, increased incidence of toxic domoic acid events, and wide fluctuations of fish populations. Discarded fishing tackle, plastic bags, and other kinds of trash also severely impact aquatic birds and many end up at our centers needing help.
BN: How can people get involved with International Bird Rescue?
JH: They can attend our San Francisco Bay Wildlife Rescue Center’s volunteer orientations, or they can make a donation to help International Bird Rescue stay prepared for the next emergency. Your support helps us purchase food and medicine for each avian patient, and advance research efforts in aquatic bird rescue and rehabilitation.
BN: What are some of your favorite natural places to explore in the Bay Area?
JH: The biggest secret in the Bay Area is the Suisun Marsh. Encompassing 116,000 acres the Suisun Marsh is the largest contiguous brackish water marsh remaining on the west coast of North America. In one four-hour trip you can see tule elk, river otters, beavers, hawks, owls, shorebirds, waterfowl, herons, coyotes, bitterns and many passerine species. My other favorites are Monterey Bay and all of Point Reyes.