Eighty birds covered in oil were found along the Southern California coast in February; some of them were near death. On Monday, the final three birds to be nurtured back to health by the International Bird Rescue Center were given a check-up and released into the wild. Hetty Chang reports from San Pedro for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on April 22, 2013.
Three seabirds are paddling home Monday after rescue workers scrubbed off tar and crude oil from their bodies and nursed them back to health for two months.
After being covered in sludge in February, the birds' final check-up and release came just in time for Earth Day, a day designated to inspire environmental awareness.
The birds, called common murres, arrived at the International Bird Rescue Center in San Pedro after being discovered emaciated and hypothermic on beaches from Malibu to Newport, according to a news release by the center.
A total of 80 common murres were brought to the center; the final three birds were released Monday. The birds were migrating earlier this year when they were caught in natural oil seepage.
"They swim through natural seep that comes up through the California coast," said Kelly Berry, a rehab technician at the International Bird Rescue Center. "They unknowingly swim through this oil and become contaminated."
The birds, known for diving off cliffs, spent months at the San Pedro-based center rehabilitating after the muck was washed off (pictured at right).
The center paid particular attention to rescuing the common murres due to the birds’ low reproductive rates, a fact noted by the Audubon Society.
"They're going back into the wild where they have to hunt for food," Berry said. "We want to make sure that they're completely able to have enough calories and muscle to burn to begin hunting for food."
Without receiving care, oiled birds will die in the wild, according to rescuers. The oil prevents their bodies from natural waterproofing, so they are unable to thermo-regulate.
"California beaches are very heavily populated -- people love going to the beach," Berry said. "What bird rescue provides is a place for them to get rehabilitated...until they are reintroduced back into the wild."
The murres’ body weights met the rescue center’s standards, and the birds were able to go home.
"When we are able to successfully release them, that is a very beautiful process," Berry said.
NBC4's Hetty Chang contributed to this report.
NOTE: The original article reported that 80 birds were released Monday. Three seabirds were released into the wild on Earth Day, the last of 80 common murres that were found covered in oil two months ago.