Obviously, a oiled bird doesn’t look healthy, but what exactly are the dangers associated with the oil? Why does it take so long to release an oiled bird, even after it has been cleaned?
First, oil impacts the waterproofing ability of birds. At first glance, this statement seems to defy logic– oil floats on water so oiled feathers should have additional waterproofing. However, waterproofing of feathers occurs because of the way that the feathers stick together. Oil covered feathers become separated and, thus, allow water to soak them more thoroughly.
You can try a simple experiment at home. Next time you find a discarded bird feather lying on the ground, pick it up and feel how the feather sticks together. The process works a bit like velcro with tiny hooks connecting the feather together. If you wet the feather, water will just roll off. Add some oil to the feather and see what happens– the feather will no longer fit together as well as it did. Wash off the oil with some dishwashing liquid and allow the feather to dry. The washed feather will not fit together at all, explaining why oiled birds need to spend days, if not weeks, in a rehab facility after being cleaned. Birds need time for the feathers to reform their tight seal.
Other medical issues also arise when birds are oiled. When oil reaches the skin below the feathers, it can cause rashes and other skin irritations. Oil is toxic. Birds naturally preen themselves. The process of preening actually moves the feathers into correct alignment and allows for waterproofing. Since birds have no hands, birds must manipulate their feathers by using their mouths. When feathers are oiled, this results in ingestion of oil. Oil is known to cause stomach issues and has renal toxicity. Stomach problems resulting from the oil often result in starvation, as the birds no longer have the desire to eat. Renal toxicity can result in renal failure and a slow, painful death.
Luckily, hundreds of oiled birds have been cleaned and treated at facilities along the Gulf Coast. As of July 17, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon Response Consolidate Fish and Wildlife Report states that 1191 birds have been collected alive and 2129 have been collected dead. The report is provided to the public by the International Bird Rescue Research Center. Several species of birds have been treated including both brown and white pelicans; several species of egret; two species of terns; gulls; and spoonbills.
In Southwest Florida, the beaches remain clear and therefore no local birds have been impacted by the oil spill.