Audubon Oil Response Team Update #3: Taking care of birds

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1:10 p.m.

Contact with oil can have disastrous effects on seabirds and shorebirds, weakening them slowly or killing them outright. In this spill, bird casualties have been relatively few – so far – for which we are all very grateful.

That is not to say, of course, that birds are safe. They are not safe. Individual birds and bird populations could still be badly affected either in the near or long term, or both.

Audubon's director of bird conservation in Louisiana, Melanie Driscoll, met yesterday with staff from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Louisiana State Animal Response Team and Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research to discuss rescue and care efforts for birds that come into contact with oil.

Here's what she had to say after the meeting:

"Tonight, I met at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center with the lead agencies in charge of oiled bird rescue. We built a good rapport and talked through several challenges to ensure that the wildlife response will work as smoothly as possible.

Melanie Driscoll
Melanie Driscoll (by David J. Ringer/Audubon)

"So far, very few oiled birds have been found and brought in. All the agencies and organizations involved are using this time – before there are lots of birds – to get structures and processes in place to deal with a much larger response when and if it becomes necessary.

 "The basic process by which a bird is rescued is as follows. Birds are located and reported to the wildlife hotline, either by members of the public or by specialized wildlife rescue teams. The Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is notified and coordinates with a field team to pick up the birds. The field team lets the land transport team and wildlife transport facilitators know that birds are on their way to a staging area. The transport team takes birds to the Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, where staff admit, stabilize, wash and rehabilitate birds. Rehabilitated birds are usually released in 7 to 10 days post-cleaning.

"Non-oiled injured birds (for example, a Northern Gannet that had swallowed a fishhook) are in some cases being taken to the Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, where they are evaluated and sent on to the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine for treatment if they are not oiled. Most of these birds would not have received help otherwise. Birds that are clearly not oiled (birds rescued in Shreveport, or fledgling land birds, for example) will be picked up by wildlife rehabilitators for normal wildlife rehabilitation.

"Audubon has been asked to position facilitators at docks in Hopedale and Venice, to schedule volunteers to transport non-oiled injured birds from the Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center to LSU, and to have several emergency transport people on standby to pick up birds and take them to the Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center when they are brought in by helicopter or boat to other locations along the coast.

"I was very impressed with the Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research staff. They know how to do this and do it well, and everyone is looking to them to make this work right. Some things are still being worked out, such as details about who does the land transport in each site, but we made a lot of progress tonight, and I’m confident that we’ll continue setting things up well to care for birds as best we can."

Important: To report oiled wildlife, including birds, call (866) 557-1401. Do not call any other organization directly. Because of the number of agencies and organizations involved in this effort, it is important to follow the established protocols. To report non-oiled wildlife, locate a licensed wildlife rehabilitator near you.

David J. Ringer
Mississippi River Initiative
National Audubon Society

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