Oil-Covered Birds a Vivid Symbol of the Crisis in the Gulf

BY Joanne Jennings  June 8, 2010 at 2:31 PM EDT

Images of oil-covered birds are among the most vivid symbols of the wildlife damage wrought by the Deepwater Horizon spill. The brown pelican, which graces the Louisiana state flag and was just brought back from the brink of extinction last year, has been hit especially hard.

As of Monday night, 1,007 damaged birds have been catalogued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Of those, 594 were found dead and the remaining 413 birds were brought to rehabilitation centers like the one at Fort Jackson, La., run by the International Bird Rescue Research Center, along with federal and Louisiana state wildlife officials.

Once brought to Fort Jackson, the birds are treated for dehydration and are fed before the difficult clean-up operation begins. They are first bathed in warm vegetable oil, followed by a scrubbing in dishwashing liquid. The birds are closely monitored by veternarians like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Sharon Taylor, who release recovered birds back into the wild.

Taylor told the NewsHour during a recent reporting trip that the number of birds rescued is “small compared to the number of animals that are directly impacted — that we were either never able to find because they were lost out at sea, or that scavengers got onshore, so it’s a small percentage of the numbers actually impacted by the oil spill.”

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With additional video editing by Jason Lelchuk and camera by Brian Gill