In a birds-eye view, the Lake Pit at La Brea Tar Pits appears to be a refreshing body of water in the middle of the developed Los Angeles cityscape.
But it became a death trap for a flock of 15 Canada geese — who landed in the sticky goo on July 31.
From above, “it looks like a pretty lake in the middle of a city,” said veterinarian Rebecca Duerr of the International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center, in San Pedro.
Listless, unable to stand and mostly immobilized by the heavy tar covering them, the prognosis was dire. Eight of them died quickly. Seven made it to the bird rescue center, but all but two of those also died in fairly short order.
But two survived and remained under care at the San Pedro facility as of Tuesday, Aug. 15. Caregivers said they hope the geese will recover enough to be released.
One of the birds, Duerr said, in a telephone interview, had an operation on Sunday but was stable.
The other one, she said, was well enough to join other birds at the center on Tuesday, she said.
“I have good hopes,” she said.
When the birds were initially rescued from the tar pit and brought in, she said, “they were stuck to themselves and to the boxes they were in.”
“It’s heartbreaking to see accidents like this occur,” JD Bergeron, CEO of Bird Rescue in Northern California, said in a written statement. “Birds in a changing world face dwindling natural habitat and lack of habitat is a big problem for the wild animals that call Los Angeles home.”
When the initial group of birds was bought in, bird center officials said, they were experiencing severe stress and had developed a condition called capture myopathy, where muscle damage results from extreme exertion and struggling. One bird had a broken leg from the experience.
Canada geese are found in California year-round and are a “natural resident” of the area, Duerr said, and have “learned to live in cities.”
Both of the surviving geese are still recovering from capture myopathy but are slowly regaining the strength to stand on their own. They also are recovering from burn wounds and feather loss. The bird requiring surgery had severe burns “to the bone” on its underside, Duerr said.
La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, 5801 Wilshire Blvd., is an iconic part of L.A. It is the only actively excavated Ice Age fossil site in an urban location, according to its website. For more than 50,000 years, the pits trapped Ice Age animals, plants and insects in its sticky asphalt, inadvertently preserving them for future generations to discover. More than 100 excavations have been made there since the early 1900s and the recovered fossils are housed in the adjacent museum.
The Lake Pit is located in front of the museum.
According to the description on La Brea Tar Pits website, it was “left over from asphalt mining operations in the late 1800s. Rain and groundwater has collected above the bubbling asphalt, creating a small lake. The lake’s bubbles, sheet and distinctive odor come from a deep underground oil field.”
The Lake Pit is fenced off to the public, but, Duerr said, it would be helpful if something could be in place to prevent birds from flying into it.
Amy Hood from La Brea Tar Pits, said in a written response that the incident was “an unfortunate and distressing” event.
“This particular situation is a rare occurrence,” she said, “but animals occasionally getting stuck in the tar is a process that has been happening here for over 60,000 years. Rescuing animals from the Lake Pit is difficult and dangerous and best left to those with specialized training.”
She said the museum contacted Los Angeles Animal Services and the department’s Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team responded.
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“Bird Rescue consults with wildlife responsibility partners to deter wild birds from these types of hazards,” Bergeron said. “The best-case scenario is to prevent these injuries from happening. Until then, we rely on public support to pay for extensive medial care and costly treatments.”
The public can donate to the nonprofit center by visiting birdrescue.org/donate.