In-House Research

grebe thermography

In-House Research

Every oiled wildlife response is different and highlights ways the rehabilitation process can be improved. This might range from simple adjustments to existing protocols to large-scale technology projects to change response techniques.

While projects funded by the Competitive Grants Program often address more complex questions, the OWCN's in-house research program focuses on incremental improvements that the OWCN Management Team focuses on that can immediately impact oiled wildlife capture and care.

Examples of our recent work includes:

Electronic Medical Records

One of the big challenges in oiled wildlife response is tracking the large amount of information collected on each animal captured and throughout the rehabilitation process. Developing a database to collect and manage this information using tools that are robust and web-based, is a priority goal that the OWCN Management Team is actively working to achieve. Currently we are testing an iPhone-based animal collection app coupled with an online medical database (produced by the OWCN Member Organization Wild Neighbors Database Project) as a pilot project to collect and manage oiled bird information. Should this system prove effective, it will be expanded to other taxa.


Feeding birds and mammals in an emergency situation presents numerous challenges. The OWCN is working to compare the nutrition, tolerance, digestibility and assimilation of different manufactured diets for seabirds. Oiled birds are often emaciated, and of the first steps in their care is to provide high quality nutrition through easily digested, manufactured liquid diets.


Oiled birds are often dehydrated when captured because they become cold and come ashore where they have no water to drink. The OWCN is engaged in a project to compare the relative effectiveness of water, IV saline solution, and powdered electrolyte solutions for rehydrating seabirds, as well as adding glucose to oral fluids to increase success. The results will improve treatment outcomes and make it easier to keep facilities stocked and ready for a spill.

Animal Tracking

One of the greatest challenges in determining the success of wildlife response is the long-term following of animals after release. While permanent leg bands are placed on all birds prior to release, only an extremely small proportion of those animals are ever seen again. Ideally, advanced tracking devices (such as radiotelemetry or satellite tags) are placed on a subset of animals (as detailed in the Post-Release Research page), these techniques are expensive and not proven in many species. The OWCN staff have focused efforts exploring new and innovative means of attaching devices on species such as Western grebes to better allow follow-up and determine survival.