So, what does one feed over seven hundred hungry waterbirds? Lots and lots and lots of fish, for starters. The fish of choice is smelt, a small fish, notable for its lack of oiliness. It is imperative that birds under care are not exposed to oils which can affect their feather-waterproofing, and cause hypothermia.
When oiled birds are first admitted to the oiled wildlife rehabilitation center where I have been volunteering, they are generally dehydrated and very hungry. Often they are too stressed to eat, so at first, the birds are given food and fluids through tube feeding.
Of course, you cannot jam a fish (or anything else) into a tube and hope it will come out the other end into the bird's gullet. The birds' food has to be prepared. Just like in the old Saturday Night Live Bass-O-Matic skit, the fish goes into the blender, along with other nutritious yummies.
There are two kitchens, working non-stop to prepare food for the hundreds of birds under care. One kitchen is for the oiled birds, and one for the clean. The food prepared is about the same, but once a dish or utensil is in contact with an oiled bird, it is contaminated and cannot safely be used with the clean birds.
Birds often need to be rehydrated, and the center uses cases and cases of Pedialyte.
In the interest of recycling plastics, the empty bottles are re-used to hold the ground-up "mash" that will be fed to the birds.
Food and fluids are put into giant syringes, and stored in hot water. This way, the temperature of the food an fluids are not a shock to the birds' digestive systems. Bad enough having a feeding tube shoved down your throat. At least the food should be body-temperature.
Sheri and I filled syringes with mash on our first days as volunteers. It was a messy, smelly job, and the odor of mash stayed with us for hours. Linguine was so excited by the scent that she bit me on the face when I got home. I must have smelled delicious.
The "feeding tubes" are actually urological catheters. Flexible and fairly small diameters, but nevertheless, I cannot imagine that having this rammed (however gently) down one's gullet (or anywhere else) is a particularly pleasant experience.
Once the birds are stabilized and cleaned of oil, they are offered solid food, either fish or mealworms, depending on their species. One of the delights of my day was "biffing" fish at the birds in the rehab pools. When one tosses fish at birds, they respond to it like live fish and start diving for food. It is truly gratifying to see these formerly oil-soaked creatures, swimming freely and gobbling up fish.
The smaller Eared and Horned Grebes cannot eat whole smelt, and I had the task of cutting up smelt with a pair of scissors. I have been a vegetarian for decades, but I plunked down in the shade with my colander of fish, and set to work. Without exception, this was the one task that was the biggest conversation starter. People were terribly amused and said the funniest things as they passed by. I just wish someone had advised me to wear gloves while chopping smelt. Despite repeated hand washings, I was picking tiny fish scales off my hands all day. When I got home, and took a shower, my hands just reeked of fish. I ended up rubbing lemon slices all over my hands, which amused Robb to no end.
Oh, and by the way, the chopped up smelts are a freaky color because I photographed them inside of a red plastic bucket, not because they are drenched in gore.