Jay Holcomb, 63, executive director and director emeritus of International Bird Rescue since 1986, on June 10, 2014 died of kidney cancer in Modesto, California.
Longtime International Bird Rescue global response director Barbara Callahan recently succeeded Holcomb as interim executive director.
Born in San Francisco, Holcomb at age nine moved with his family north to San Anselmo, in Marin County. After high school graduation Holcomb took a job with the Marin County Humane Society.
“Holcomb’s career in bird rescue began in 1971 after two tankers collided in San Francisco Bay, releasing more than 800,000 gallons of oil and leading to the formation of the organization that he would later lead,” recalled Channing Joseph of Associated Press. The collision, near the Golden Gate Bridge, sent a plume of oil 50 miles up the coast with the outgoing tide.
Becoming assistant to International Bird Rescue founder Alice Berkner, Holcomb helped at the first International Bird Rescue facility in Cordelia, California. The rescue center moved to Aquatic Park in Berkeley in 1975, occupying an old building near the Berkeley Animal Shelter. Research done there included the discovery in 1976 that Downy detergent is the most effective product for removing oil from birds’ feathers. The maker, Procter & Gamble, has donated large quantities of Downy to oil spill rescue projects ever since.
The International Bird Rescue headquarters was moved to Fairfield, California in 2001, the same year that a Southern California rescue center was opened in Angel’s Gate Park in San Pedro.
After becoming executive director, Holcomb directed responses to disasters including the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska; an oil spill that afflicted more than 20,000 penguins in 2000 near Cape Town, South Africa; and the 2010 BP oil spill along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana.
The Emmy Award-winning documentary “Saving Pelican 895” focused on Holcomb’s work after the Gulf oil spill. Pelicans had long been among his focal interests. He had begun a program in 2009 to follow up on the fate of California brown pelicans who had been treated and released by International