Deadly Oil

A fledgling American robin had a rough start and end to life, landing in an open container of motor oil during what must have been one of the first (and last) flights of his life. Although we tried washing the oil off the bird, the young robin died within a few days. The bird, who came in weak and drenched in oil, likely ingested the oil orally and through his skin, leading to his early death.

Watch a video of VINS staff washing the young, oiled robin.
In the photo, the bird sits in the box he was brought to VINS in, awaiting his

Cases like this, the great-horned owl we are caring for, and the recent gull patient remind us all what a tremendous effect humans have on the lives and well-being of wildlife. While death is part of nature, many deaths are a direct result of careless human action. A robin getting attacked by a wild cooper’s hawk, for example, is part of nature. A robin dying from landing in an open container of motor oil, however, is not natural. It is important for us all to think about how what we do and how we live affect the living creatures around us.

  • Pesticides & Other Poisons. The National Audubon Society estimates 7 million songbirds die from exposure to pesticides each year. Look at the label on the pesticide you may be using on your lawn and garden. It may state that it is “lethal” to birds. If so, don’t use it. There are alternatives.
  • Cats. Have a cat? Help prevent the hundreds of millions of migratory birds killed for sport every year by pet cats (who do not need to eat birds to survive) by keeping your cat indoors. The American Bird Conservancy’s Cats Indoors! campaign has information on how to make your outdoor feline a happy indoor kitty.
  • Motor Oil & Cooking Oil. Containers of oil must be covered when not in use or when discarded, as birds who land in them can drown. Oil ruins feather structure and prevents flight (which will eventually cause death if not cleaned off feathers). Oil also may cause illness and death to birds who inadvertently consume it.


  1. Anonymous on August 22, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    Very sad … and irritating. It must be tough dealing with these types of cases. Thank you Meghan and everyone at VINS for the important work you do.

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