Cornell expert describes first-hand views in Louisiana
Ken Rosenberg, director of conservation science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and a specialist on the conservation of birds throughout the Western Hemisphere, comments on birds recently exposed to oil that washed past booms and the long-term effort needed to recover from the Gulf oil spill, still gushing and now the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
“This weekend, a team from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology documented the birds of Isle Grand Terre, Louisiana, after the oil got past the booms," he said. “The shores of Grand Terre were awash in oil when our team arrived there on June 5. They found nine species of birds with oiled plumage.
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"Two pelicans were heavily covered in oil and were captured by rehabilitators," he said. "Other birds -- such as Royal Terns, American Oystercatchers and Sanderlings -- had swatches of oil on their plumage.
"Clean feathers can make the difference between life and death for birds," Rosenberg said. "Feather condition is critical for insulation and flight, and because oil is hard to remove, birds may preen obsessively, even at the expense of finding food and raising their young.
“Scenes of rescued birds can be heartwarming, but the sobering reality is that those efforts will have little effect on bird populations without long-term habitat recovery efforts in affected areas," he said. “Rescuers can reach only a fraction of the oiled birds, and those that do receive treatment still face a contaminated environment after they’re released.
"It’s critical to make sure that funding for cleanup covers not just short-term rescue efforts but restoration of critical nesting sites and long-term recovery of the entire ecosystem, which is far more expensive and difficult," Rosenberg said.
“Birders are playing a key role in documenting birds in the path of the oil spill. Since May 4, birders in Gulf Coast states have submitted more than 100,000 observations to www.ebird.org to help track bird numbers and record information needed for immediate and long-term recovery efforts. Besides reporting where birds are concentrating and therefore most vulnerable, local birders are also helping to document the numbers and diversity of birds directly affected by the oil.”
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