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Jul 23, 2010 7:19 AM by Sharlee Barriere

Reported Number of Bird Deaths Grow on Gulf Coast

sociated Press Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The number of dead birds collected on the
Gulf Coast has more than doubled in the past month as oil from BP's
broken deepwater well continues to wash up on islands and beaches
rich in bird colonies.
Officials say 2,599 dead birds had been collected on the Gulf
Coast as of Thursday. A month ago, 1,046 dead birds had been
collected, according to official death counts.
Bird experts say the growing death toll among birds - and the
disappearance of water birds in some locations - is worrisome
because the numbers of dead are probably much higher. Studies have
shown the official counts of dead birds found after an oil spill
represents one quarter, or less, of the actual number of birds that
die.
Bill Beebe, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
said the increase in bird deaths comes at the end of nesting season
for many birds, as chicks are beginning to leave their nests and
get into the water.
The increase in deaths comes as bird conservation groups ratchet
up criticism of rescue efforts.
"From what I saw, the effort to stop the oil from hitting the
beaches was ineffective," said Michael J. Parr, vice president of
the American Bird Conservancy in Washington.
His group issued a scathing report on Monday arguing that not
enough had been done to save birds from the oil coming ashore. The
report criticized cleanup crews for recklessly driving over beach
nests.
Reports also are coming in about trouble on several Louisiana
islands, including Raccoon Island, Cat Island, Queen Bess Island
and East Grand Terre Island. Bird watchers have reported the
disappearance of black skimmers, pelicans, royal terns, least
terns, sandwich terns, laughing seagulls and reddish egrets in
these locations.
Raccoon Island is the site of one of the state's largest
colonial waterbird nesting colonies and a particularly important
nesting area for brown pelicans. Last week, researchers from the
Cornell Lab of Ornithology reported spotting at least 300-400 oiled
pelicans on Raccoon Island, an area where government officials had
documented only 68 oiled pelicans.
The difference in the numbers highlighted the counting method
used by the government, which includes only oiled birds collected
for rehabilitation or whose dead carcasses are collected to use as
evidence in the spill investigation. Oiled birds in the many
nesting areas that dot the Gulf coast typically are left in place
and not counted in official tallies.
Marc Dantzker, one of the Cornell ornithologists, said efforts
to protect the island with boom were insufficient. Raccoon Island
is one of Louisiana's most important nesting grounds.
"There are more and more birds with oil on them," Dantzker
said.
The state is preparing to boom some of the islands more
thoroughly, said Bo Boehringer, a spokesman for the Louisiana
Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He said the state is
coordinating with Terrebonne Parish officials to protect Raccoon
and Wine Islands, part of the Isles Dernieres barrier island chain,
from oil.
He also noted that most of the new bird mortalities discovered
were found in the Chandeleur Sound area of St. Bernard Parish.
"There have not been any instances noted of increased dead bird
collections on the well-known rookeries that include Raccoon, Cat
and Queen Bess islands," Boehringer said.
By comparison, the number of other dead animals being reported
by officials has not climbed as steeply. For example, in the past
month the number of dead sea turtles has grown from 411 to 483 and
dead mammals from 47 to 62.
"Birds may just get into the oil more than other things,"
Dantzker said. "These are animals getting oiled when they are
feeding and bathing. They are uniquely vulnerable to that."
Still, he said the number of dead birds so far collected remains
small compared to the huge numbers of birds on the Gulf.
"There are still lots of healthy birds there," he said. "At
this point the system has a good chance of a strong recovery."

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