Magazine article USA TODAY

Gulf Birds Not out of the Woods Yet

Magazine article USA TODAY

Gulf Birds Not out of the Woods Yet

Article excerpt

Despite the seemingly permanent capping of the Macondo well (the remnant of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil platform explosion), concern about the disaster's long-term toll on birds and their habitat remains very much alive. "This hasn't been the avalanche of oiled-bird deaths that many remember from the Exxon Valdez disaster, but that doesn't mean we're home free," cautions Greg Butcher, director of Bird Conservation for the National Audubon Society, New York. "This is a very different kind of spill than we've seen before, and the impact is not as clear. Species that breed in the Gulf and others that migrate along the Central and Mississippi flyways still face a potentially serious toll and need our help."

Parts of many nesting islands and important habitats still are fouled by oil and remain susceptible to unknown amounts that remain on or below the surface of the water. While much has disappeared from view, scientists say some oil could persist for months; they remain uncertain of the threat it poses to beach and marsh habitats that provide breeding grounds and stop-over sites for scores of bird species. There remains serious concern about the oils impact on the marine food chain vital to birds and other Gulf species.

"It's a mistake to assume the birds got off easy," asserts Butcher. "This disaster awakened us to the importance of caring for the health of the Gulf and of habitat across America--we can't slip back into complacency just because the oil stopped flowing."

Heartbreaking images of oiled birds, including the brown pelican--just removed from the Endangered Species List--raise public awareness and concern, but tell only part of the story. Unseen and uncounted in seemingly low casualty figures are birds that simply disappeared below the water and those that could not be recovered without risk to healthy birds. …

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