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How Oil Affects Birds

May 23, 2010 — Workers in Louisiana have been trying to keep wildlife safe from the massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico. In this video, one expert explains why sometimes the birds that appear worse off are easier to help.

Jay Holcomb is the Executive Director of the International Bird Rescue Research Centre in Fort Jackson Louisiana.

Holcomb explains that often times birds that are completely coated in oil are actually easier to save because they are easier to capture.

Once in the care of the Rescue Centre, experts can get to work cleaning the oil from the birds' plumage and help get proper nutrition into them.

Once the birds are clean, they have to re-waterproof themselves. The birds do this by coating their feathers with a natural oil made in the animal's glands. In addition, once the feathers are coated, or 'preened' the bird can shift them to sit like overlapping shingles to create a waterproof and air-tight covering.

Tar or oil, like that spewing into the Gulf of Mexico make the preening process very difficult or even impossible.

Another challenge for rescue workers is keeping the birds warm. Often, when a bird is brought into the rescue centre, it is suffering from hypothermia because their natural feather barrier is damaged by the oily pollution.Once washed and treated, the birds are kept in warm quiet cages for a few days to recover from the shock of their ordeal. There they can stay warm and finish the preening process.

Once the experts see that the animals are properly hydrated, fed, cleaned and preened, they gently release the animal back into a safe environment.

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