Oil Spill Update: First Oiled Birds Released Today, Containment Setbacks, Media Copters Disturb Nesting Birds, and More

Oil Spill Update: First Oiled Birds Released Today, Containment Setbacks, Media Copters Disturb Nesting Birds, and More

Alisa Opar
Published: 05/10/2010

Northern Gannet. Photo: Glen Tepke

Brown pelican. Photo: USFWS

Oil spill cleanup crews and wildlife rescuers are working tirelessly as oil continues leaking—to the tune of at least 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, a day—since the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up and sank off the Louisiana coast on April 22. Here’s a look at recent developments, from the first two treated birds being released, to tar balls washing up on an Alabama beach.

 
First Treated Birds Released
The first two oiled birds found in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill— a brown pelican and a northern gannet nicknamed “Lucky” by the workers who rescued him—have been cleaned and are now recovered and ready for release, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced. The agency will release the birds at 4 p.m. today, May 10, at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Atlantic coast northeast of Vero Beach, Florida. Officials selected Pelican Island as the release site because it’s located within the Indian River Lagoon, the most biologically diverse estuary in the US, it has a large population of gannets and pelicans, and it’s out of the current oil spill trajectory. Read more about how oiled birds are rehabilitated.
 
About the birds:
 
Lucky, a young male gannet, was found April 27 in the Gulf near the source of the leak. The Tri-State Bird Rescue team found that he was about 80 percent oiled, giving him an orange appearance. He was thin and dehydrated, so he was given intravenous fluids several times, as well as oral fluids and Pepto-Bismol for oil he may have ingested. He was washed with a mild detergent solution on May 1, and has been in an outdoor pool for a few days now, gaining weight.

 
The pelican, also a young male, was found May 3 on Stone Island in Breton Sound on the Louisiana coast by a team of state and federal wildlife officials. He was thin and moderately oiled over his whole body. Experts treated him with IV and oral fluids, and started hand-feeding fish to him the first day. He was washed on 4 May and has been in an outside pool for several days, gaining weight.

Audubon on the Ground
While few oiled birds have been found so far, wildlife experts are bracing for large-scale rescue efforts. Audubon has several people on site helping out, including David Ringer, of Audubon’s Mississippi River Initiative, who is blogging about his experiences on The Perch. In a recent post, he describes birds still unaffected by the spill:
 
Forster’s Terns grasp silver fish in orange bills tipped black. Tricolored Herons pepper one island in dozens; White Ibises swirl in a tight, brilliant flock. Laughing Gulls laugh, cry, murmur, wail, and the air makes my skin sticky. A frigatebird makes an appearance. And the Brown Pelicans, a bird Audubon has been fighting to save since the organization began, sit on their nests, taking in the world through clear white eyes.
 
But birds elsewhere are under siege, beginning to make contact with oil as they dive for fish in contaminated waters. We are stuck in a sickening waiting game, knowing that some birds are oiled and that others soon will be, knowing that the entire ecosystem is being poisoned, wondering what tomorrow will bring, and the next day, and the next year.

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