Cotati woman returns to bird rescue duty on the Gulf

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I immediately begin to sweat as I walk towards a pen to get my first oiled pelican waiting to be washed after it's pre-treatment. It's very slippery from the oil and I try to be careful as I reach for a pelican that is snapping his long beak at me. He is heavy and hard to hold. I catch him firmly and carry him to the spray station where another handler is waiting.

As I stand there beginning to spray the bird, it feels like I am inside a car wash with the soap foaming off my face shield. It's hard to see, and I can feel the sweat running down my face, back, stomach and legs into my boots. Gold's Bond foot powder is my new best friend.

The other handler is doing a great job holding the bird and rotating him around as I slowly and meticulously spray deep inside all his feathers to wash the oil out. I can feel the muscles in my shoulders and back burning from the heavy sprayer and hose, but keep going. I marvel at how well this is working. It feels good to see the brown goo rinse down the sink and into the waiting tanks outside.

We have a pretty good pace going now and it is time for lunch after finishing 17 pelicans that morning. As I return from lunch and start suiting up, I notice the media has arrived. There are at least 20 reporters with 40 more waiting their turn to come in.

Amongst the first group are CNN and two local news stations. With the world watching, I briefly wonder if anyone is thinking I am holding the bird too tight or stressing him out while I continue to spray the oil off. I have overheard those comments before from a couple of well-meaning reporters.

I quickly dismiss that idea and ignore the cameras, knowing we are doing a good job keeping everyone safe including the bird.

I start to think about why I keep seeing the headline from a scientist who says there is only a 1 percent chance that these birds we are cleaning will survive back in the wild. I wonder how he came up with such outlandish information and find this impossible to believe. The birds I have been caring for here are gaining weight, and getting much stronger. I know the one I am washing now will soon be flying through the sky and diving into the ocean for another delicious fish.

That's what keeps me going.

Doris Duncan is executive director of Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue.

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