Rescue Group Cleans Birds Covered By Mystery Substance

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The International Bird Rescue Center was humming with activity all weekend after dozens of sea birds were found along the East Bay covered with a sticky substance.

The center helped clean oil from hundreds of sea birds during the BP oil spill in San Francisco Bay 5 years ago, but this substance is different.

"We've never seen anything like it. It's sticky, it's gooey but it doesn't want to come off," said Barbara Callahan, interim director of the center.

The birds were cleaned with detergents and solvents after many were found dead or dying late last week. The center is still collecting birds. Although 20 of them have died after arriving at the center, a combination of vinegar, baking soda and dish washing detergent seems to be working.

Many of the 230 birds being treated are expected to survive. The grayish or clear material doesn't appear to be toxic but does break down the insulation properties of the birds' feathers.

Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel are trying to identify the substance.

"If it's pollution somebody should be made accountable. If it's a naturally occuring substance, and it could be, then there's not a lot you can do but at least we would know," said Callahan.

Because no emergency or disaster has been declared, the center is footing the bill for rescue efforts. Although a small army of volunteers has been called in to help with the cleaning, the cost of water, heat and food for the birds and the on-going collection of affected birds is costing $7,000 to $8,000 a day.

The center is hoping that monetary donations will help with the rescue effort.

"In the meantime, we're going to take care of these animals and we're going to be out there in the field until the last animal is found," said Callahan.