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Jay Holcomb, leader of bird-rescue efforts at some of world's biggest oil spills, dies at 63

SAN FRANCISCO - Jay Holcomb, who led bird-rescue efforts at some of the world's biggest oil spills during his leadership at International Bird Rescue, has died in California. He was 63.

Holcomb died in Modesto, surrounded by family and friends, Andrew Harmon, a spokesman for the wildlife organization, said in a statement Wednesday. The cause of death was kidney cancer.

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 founding of the organization that he would later lead. He became executive director of International Bird Rescue in 1986, and spearheaded or assisted efforts to care for pelicans, gannets and other birds in dozens of oil-spill emergencies, including the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"For decades, Jay was a singular force in saving wild birds everywhere, giving a voice to the animals who need it most," said Susan Kaveggia, board chairwoman of International Bird Rescue. "We can never replace him. But we can follow in his footsteps and continue to inspire others to care for wildlife in his memory."

Jay Burch Holcomb, who was born in San Francisco on April 16, 1951, said he felt a calling to save wildlife since he was a young boy.

"Very early in my life, I became aware that I had a sense of purpose that I could not shake — nor did I want to — so I just lived as I was compelled to," Holcomb recalled in 2011, according to a statement. "At age 5 or so, I became aware of an intense desire to help animals but had no idea how to make it happen."

After his high school graduation, Holcomb worked at the Marin County Humane Society before joining International Bird Rescue.

In 2011, he was featured in the Emmy Award-winning documentary "Saving Pelican 895" about his organization's work to rehabilitate oiled birds in the Gulf spill.

He is survived his mother, Joan Finney; sisters Judy Craven and Marianne Groth; and brother Don Stauffer.

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