Bird washers hard at work as Gulf spill toll grows

VENICE, La., June 5 Sat Jun 5, 2010 7:08pm EDT

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VENICE, La., June 5 (Reuters) - About 25 brown pelicans shivered and tried to clean their oil-soaked feathers on Saturday in a pen at a Louisiana bird rehabilitation center, as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill's impact on wildlife worsened.

The number of birds brought to the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center in Venice, Louisiana, where workers hired by BP wash the birds, has jumped in the past two days as a huge oil slick edges closer to vital nesting and breeding grounds.

A total of 157 birds found in state waters have been treated at the center, where they receive a vigorous scrubbing, since the oil started leaking from a ruptured BP (BP.L) (BP.N) well almost seven weeks ago.

But 66 birds, mostly brown pelicans, arrived in just the past two days, raising alarm bells. The brown pelican is Louisiana's state bird and only was taken off the endangered species list just last year amid attempts to restore its population.

"This could be a major setback for that effort," said James Harris, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who has spent the last 20 years working with others to restore Louisiana's brown pelican population.

"I recognize that these are not my pelicans, but it's hard not to be personally vested in it."

The birds brought to the center are plucked from oil soaked waters that now ring Louisiana's fragile barrier islands and marshes. The feathers of oiled birds become matted and separate, leaving them vulnerable to heat or cold.

They also try to preen, or clean their feathers with their beak or bill, risking a sickening or fatal ingestion of oil.

The marshy areas around the rehabilitation center are so far untouched by the slick, and are teeming with birds. Snowy-white egrets peck at the ground or scan shallow waters for food, while gulls and terns fly overhead.

But on Saturday, brisk winds pushed oil over some of the containment booms meant to keep the crude away from the coast, ringing a nearby brown pelican rookery and leaving the birds standing in a watery crude oil soup.

"We are receiving birds today, but we don't know how many," Jay Holcomb, executive director for the International Bird Rescue Research Center told reporters. "This oil is really gooey," he added.

BATH OF LIFE

Once brought to the center, the birds are treated for dehydration and other conditions and fed before the difficult clean-up operation begins.

Because the crude that clings to the pelicans' feathers is so sticky, they are first bathed in warmed vegetable oil.

In the next step, workers armed with toothbrushes and dishwashing liquid scrub the birds for about 45 minutes. The brown pelicans, which have wingspans as wide as 8 feet (2.44 meters) typically struggle during the process.

After the birds are dried and receive a health check, they are banded for identification purposes and flown to Florida by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The spill's toll on the Gulf coast bird population will not be known for some time -- for example, some rehabilitated birds may survive but might not breed again.

"We really won't know much until the next breeding season," Tom Bancroft, chief scientist for the National Audubon Society, said in a telephone interview.

According to the latest report issued by the U.S. government on Saturday, 547 birds across the Gulf coast have been collected dead, but not all of those animals showed signs of contact with oil.

But the government's numbers tell only part of the story. "Some (birds) just sink under the water and will never be counted," Bancroft said.

(Additional reporting by Sarah Irwin; Editing by Ros Krasny and Paul Simao)

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Comments (9)
ruletheworld wrote:
The oil spill is going to cause a lot of damage, and this is just the beginning. BP has not been forthcoming about the amount of spill and the possible damages.

In fact, BP hasn’t really been taking responsibility like it should. When scientists challenged its leak estimates, it didn’t want to tell us the truth even then.

In fact there are so many lies and so many mis-steps … see here http://bit.ly/9J6cEs

Jun 05, 2010 7:41pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
sean707 wrote:
These dead oil soaked birds should be placed on the front steps of the White House. Maybe that would raise the passion level in our “calm, cool, and collected” President as the greatest ecological disaster EVER unfolds before him.

While this disaster was obviously caused by BP, the reaction to it by this clearly incompetent administration has been disgraceful from the beginning. The runaway oil well would have been difficult to prevent (accidents can happen), but this widespread ecological destruction (which is just beginning), could have been mostly prevented had a thorough and comprehensive response plan been put in effect in a timely fashion.

A true leader would have quickly realized that BP’s response was inadequate, and made the decision to allow them to solely concentrate on capping the well. Within a week or two the government should have taken over containment, and cleanup operations by mobilizing MASSIVE numbers of personnel and equipment.

If similar equipment was not available in the US, the administration should have accepted Saudi Arabia’s offer of million+ barrel tankers that have the capability of sucking the surfacing oil into their holds and separating the oil/water mix. This EXACT technique was used nearly 20 years ago to prevent a massive oil spill in the Persian Gulf from doing massive damage had it made landfall. Why did WE not do this?

If even 75% of the oil could have been recovered in this manner, we would be talking about a very different scenario playing out in the Gulf states right now.

Now the oil (thanks to the toxic dispersants being used), is too spread out over too large an area to do this effectively, and I equally blame BP for not doing it, AND the US government for not doing it once it was clear BP wasn’t doing it. This is precisely when the US government’s massive resources should be put in play; to PROTECT the USA in the event of disaster that could potentially affect large amounts of people or large regions (this situation is both).

I weep for the residents of the Gulf states whose lives will likely be changed forever, and I weep for these innocent creatures who got stuck in this awful situation.

I also weep for this this country, which is effectively leaderless in a very dangerous world.

Jun 05, 2010 8:31pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Billcarson wrote:
Dawn dish soap is the best soap to use on the birds . The bird deaths are a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty!

The residents of the Gulf should review recent Massachusetts law news.

A jury through an environmental class action suit has recently awarded Massachusetts property owners damages eight years after the oil spill ravaged Buzzards Bay, polluting residential beaches, devastating ecosystems and hurting local property values, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.

On April 27, 2003, eight years ago the Bouchard Barge B-120 hit an obstacle in Buzzards Bay, creating a 12-foot rupture in its hull and discharging an estimated 100,000 gallons of No. 6 oil. The oil is known to have affected an estimated 90 miles of shoreline, killed 450 numerous bird species, and recreational use of the bay, such as shell fishing and boating.

Jun 05, 2010 8:45pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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