Baykeeper Update

The Passing of Jay Holcomb, Pioneer Bird Rescuer

Jay Holcomb, the long-time leader of International Bird Rescue, died last week at 63 as a result of kidney cancer. He had volunteered for the organization since its founding in 1971 during the horrific collision of two oil tankers in San Francisco Bay, and became executive director of in 1986.

Managing wildlife rescue during the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, Jay pioneered techniques for going out on the water and proactively rescuing oiled birds before they washed ashore. He ran many large wildlife rescue operations at oil spills around the world, including the Gulf oil disaster in 2010 and a South African oil spill that injured 20,000 penguins.

In 2007, when the Cosco Busan container ship spilled more than 53,000 gallons of heavy fuel into San Francisco Bay, International Bird Rescue played a vital role in the wildlife rescue effort. “His work was invaluable,” said Deb Self, Baykeeper Executive Director. “He probably had more experience rescuing oiled birds than any other person in the world.”

Jay was also an advocate for wildlife at the statewide level. “He contributed to the expansion of wildlife rescue programs and new statewide policy requiring a more proactive approach to finding and rescuing injured wildlife in California,” Deb continued. “I’m proud to have worked with him on improving California’s approach to rescuing birds during an oil spill.”

When he traveled to the site of an oil spill, Jay taught local wildlife workers how to clean oiled birds, and also how to handle logistics, organize volunteers, get the word out through news media, and inspire donors. He developed techniques for saving birds covered in oil, and was the author of many publications on wildlife rescue. Jay’s colleagues at International Bird Rescue credit him with saving more than 100,000 birds. 

Baykeeper extends our gratitude for Jay’s legacy of healthier wildlife in San Francisco Bay and beyond. Read more from International Bird Rescue about Jay Holcomb and his pioneering work rescuing birds injured in oil spills. To watch a video of Jay discussing the history of International Bird Rescue and his work, click here.