12 May 2010

Birds rescued from gulf oil spill released in Florida

By Audubon

The first two oiled birds found in the Gulf oil spill have been cleaned, rehabilitated, and are now ready for release today on Florida's Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, a refuge the National Audubon Society (BirdLife Partner in the US) helped establish and manage. The birds, a Northern Gannet and a Brown Pelican, will find a safer place to be at the nation's first wildlife refuge, on the Atlantic coast near Vero Beach and currently outside the oil spill trajectory.

Audubon played a key role in Pelican Island being named a wildlife refuge by Teddy Roosevelt in 1903. An avid birder, President Roosevelt chose Pelican Island as the foundation of what would become the National Wildlife Refuge System at the urging of Frank Chapman, an ornithologist who founded Bird-Lore (the magazine that became Audubon). Chapman described Pelican Island during nesting season as "by far the most fascinating place it has ever been my fortune to see in the world of birds."

Chapman urged members of various Audubon societies to buy the island from the government but when the plan became entangled in red tape, he and Audubon President William Dutcher took the matter to Roosevelt, who promptly declared Pelican Island "a preserve and breeding ground for native birds" creating the first federal wildlife refuge in 1903.

The salary of the first national wildlife refuge manager on the island was paid by the Florida Audubon Society (now Audubon of Florida) because Congress had not set aside funds for such. More recently Pelican Island has been identified as one of Audubon's Important Bird Areas, a global network of vital habitats for birds and other wildlife.

The birds will be released by Dr. Sharon K. Taylor, a veterinarian and Environmental Contaminants Division Chief for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 4 p.m. Monday, May 10. Richard Baker, head of the Pelican Island Audubon Society, will attend. The gannet was found near the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and the pelican was found near Breton Island, within one Audubon's Important Bird Areas (IBAs) that line the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to south Florida. Located south of Gulfport, Mississippi, Breton Island, along with the Chandeleurs, is a breeding habitat for Brown Pelicans—only recently removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list and just beginning to bounce back.

Audubon President Dr. Frank Gill described the oil spill as "another sad milestone in a disaster unfolding in slow motion" (full statement). Audubon volunteers rushed to the Louisiana coast last week at the request of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and are standing by to assist in the transfer of oiled birds from boats to vehicles that transport the birds to Fort Jackson, where they are treated, cleaned and hydrated by trained experts.

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Dr Greg Butcher, Audubon's Director of Bird Conservation on location in the Gulf, said, "We are focused on what Audubon can do to help birds not only during this crisis, but over time to support their long-term recovery. The future of the Brown Pelican depends on the visionary thinking which Audubon and Roosevelt demonstrated over a century ago. We have this in place with our Mississippi River and Louisiana Coastal Initiatives, as well at the Important Bird Area program, all enhanced by a network of partners." Source: Audubon Photo Credit: mikebaird / Flickr