Signs of hope for the beleaguered birds, but future still uncertain
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — In the months during and after the BP oil spill that began April 2010, more than 7,000 birds were collected dead, or died soon after, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. An unknown number of additional birds were most likely exposed to oil and never recovered, either because they died at sea or in remote locations on the coast.
More than 1,200 birds were rehabilitated and released in Georgia, Florida, Texas and upstate Louisiana. Of those, 699 were brown pelicans, 140 of which were released in Georgia last June and July. Some of those pelicans not only returned to the state this spring, they are nesting and raising young here.
“So far, they look great,” said Tim Keyes, a Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologist. He recently spotted eight of the pelicans nesting in a large pelican colony on Little Egg Island Bar, a state-managed natural area in Glynn County. At least seven of the nests have chicks.
While the pelican sightings are a hopeful sign for those particular birds, Hunter said there are still many unanswered questions about the impacts of the oil on the pelican population in general, as well as specific questions about the pelicans spotted in Georgia.
“These birds, no matter how clean, likely still have some oil in their internal systems and females especially may pass this contaminant on to the chicks,” said Chuck Hunter. Hunter is chief of the Division of Planning and Resource Management for the National Wildlife Refuge System in the Southeast for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “But this does tell me that it’s possible for some oiled birds to reproduce. Whether or not these chicks will fledge and survive to reproduce successfully themselves is also unknown and would take many years to determine.”