Jul 12, 2010 1:13 PM by Melissa Canone
FORT JACKSON, La. (AP) - The smallest victims are the biggest
challenge for crews rescuing birds fouled with oil from the Gulf of
There's no way to know how many chicks have been killed by the
oil, or starved because their parents were rescued or died
struggling in a slick.
"There are plenty of oiled babies out there," said Rebecca
Dmytryk of the International Bird Rescue Research Center, one of
the groups working to clean oiled animals.
The lucky ones end up in a cleaning center at Fort Jackson, a
pre-Civil War historic site on the Mississippi River delta south of
Pelican chicks often come in cold because oil has matted down
the fluffy down that's meant to keep them warm. They must be warmed
quickly just to survive long enough to be cleaned. And the youngest
must be taught to eat.
"They only know their parents regurgitating food into their
mouths. They don't know how to pick stuff up," said Dmytryk, whose
organization is working with Tri-State Bird Rescue, a company hired
by BP to coordinate animal rescue and cleaning in Louisiana,
Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
That means tube feeding three times a day. Others, a bit older
and accustomed to taking fish from a parent's throat, must be
hand-fed until they can eat fish from a bowl.
Adults can be checked a few times a day, but babies needed two
staffers' full-time attention to be sure they are eating and are
Many adults and juvenile pelicans get coated with heavy oil
diving for fish. That doesn't happen with the chicks, though they
may wade into oily puddles or get smeared by oil from their
In general, rescuers don't go into nesting colonies, said Mike
Carloss, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
biologist. He said most rescued chicks were near shorelines or were
on nests so low that oil washed onto them.
Lightly oiled chicks will lose the oil when they shed their down
feathers, he said. "We've seen a lot of those birds in those
stages make it. A lot of them are fledging now. It gives you hope
that is the right thing to do."
Nearly 60 pelican chicks and more than 600 adults were brought
to Fort Jackson in June after oil washed onto a rookery on Queen
Bess and other nearby islands in coastal Louisiana.
They're among more than 1,000 oiled birds and more than 100
oiled sea turtles rescued since the BP-leased rig Deepwater Horizon
exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. About three-quarters of the
birds and all but a handful of turtles have been cleaned in
All but two of the sea turtles - a 150-pound oiled loggerhead
dubbed Big Mama and an 85-pound loggerhead that was sick but free
of oil - are juveniles, ranging from saucer- to dinner-plate size.
Doses of fluids, antibiotics and a mix of cod-liver oil and
mayonnaise used to help break up the oil they've swallowed are
administered based on the animal's weight. But the basic treatment
is the same.
"The difference is it takes five people to lift Big Mama and
her sister. It only takes one person to lift the little guys,"
said Michele Kelley, Louisiana's sea turtle and marine mammal
Baby turtles leave their sandy nests and head straight for the
sea knowing everything a turtle needs to know.
Chicks need far more care.
Keeping them warm can be the biggest challenge, and tern chicks
are among the hardest to keep alive because they're so small, said
IBRRC staffer Mark Russell.
The birds lose body heat through their skin, and smaller animals
have more skin in proportion to their size than larger creatures.
Some of the tern chicks are smaller than a tennis ball.
The chicks also tend to be dehydrated and malnourished.
"If they're dehydrated, they don't want to eat because they
feel sick," Russell said. And they're so small that it's hard to
keep a tube down their throats to give water and liquid food.
In the week he'd been in Louisiana, he knew of two or three tern
chicks that died, Russell said Friday.
Once a chick is eating on its own, staff have as little contact
with it as possible.
"We don't want to be raising what is commonly referred to as a
pier rat," said Wendy Fox, director of Pelican Harbor Seabird
Station, the Miami rehabilitation center where the pelican chicks
were moved Saturday.
The babies will be housed next to adult "role models," and
eventually with adults, Fox said. Their pens also have pools deep
enough to dive for fish. Pelicans take five to six months to reach
At Fort Jackson, one of the youngsters perched alongside a pool
and flapped its wings energetically.
"See that?" Holcomb said. "He's almost ready to learn to