GRAND ISLE, La. - Workers in a small air-conditioned trailer handled the Brown Pelican with care. It is one of the lucky ones: spotted amidst the oil and subsequently rescued, the bird is now undergoing emergency care at a Wildlife Triage Center on Grand Isle.
"This is really the first place birds come when they are collected in the field for immediate stabilization," said Barbara Callahan, with the International Bird Rescue Research Center.
The triage center complements the larger animal rehabilitation facility, located several hours to the east in Fort Jackson. Yet, when oil mixes with wildlife, biologists say those precious hours can mean the difference between life and death.
"Once birds get oiled, they are no longer able to thermal-regulate, which means they can't stay warm, or maybe they can't even stay cold," Callahan said. "And in this heat, of course, we worry about them getting too hot."
"They also ingest the oil, in the process of preening and trying to remove the oil from their feathers," said Terry Adelsbach, a senior biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "So, they're often in pretty bad shape."
Inside the facility, it's a snug fit. The small trailer has just enough room for several workers to handle one or two birds at a time. However, with Grand Isle and Barataria Bay now getting the full impact of the spill, the number of oiled birds is continuing to climb. The small facility has now outgrown its size.
So far, 312 live birds have made it through the triage center-- 30 have not. In all, though, the numbers illustrate the need for emergency care for oiled wildlife.
"As long as there's oil that's still moving around on the water, there's a potential for animals to become oiled," Callahan said.
Next week, the Wildlife Triage Center plans to move to a larger space, at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries facility on Grand Isle.