The Beacon

A Visit With Jay Holcomb And Some Oily Birds

Brown pelicans awaiting release after being cleaned. Photo courtesy Suzannah's iphone.

In a cavernous warehouse in Louisiana’s bayou country, hundreds of oiled birds are getting a chance at survival after the BP oil disaster threatened their lives. Most of them are brown pelicans, Louisana’s state bird, along with some gulls, herons, gannets and terns. Until a couple of weeks ago, there weren’t many birds in this makeshift facility backed up against the Mississippi. But with the oil slick’s expansion closer to shore, the number of birds affected exploded – and the rescue center is racing to keep up.

The center is run by Jay Holcomb, and is primarily staffed by his International Bird Rescue Research Center team. Today, I visited Jay along with Oceana’s pollution campaign director Jackie Savitz, and got a firsthand look at the critical work that Jay and his team are doing.

We were also on hand to congratulate Jay on winning Oceana’s 2010 Ocean Heroes Award. He was unable to attend the award ceremony in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago because he was too busy doing the work of an ocean hero – saving birds in the Gulf.

Here’s a video of Jackie talking to Jay about his work and what happens to the birds after they're released. You can hear the helicopters going out to the spill site overhead.

Paul Kelway, Jay’s consigliere, gave us a quick tour of the facility. The warehouse is filled with rows of plywood cages covered in mesh, and each cage has a dozen or so oily birds waiting inside. I peeked inside one cage, and the pelicans looked exactly as you imagine: drenched in a monochromatic brown oil from beak to toe, feathers drooping. Some were shivering.

The birds come in and are immediately examined and tagged in one corner of the warehouse, where a trio of workers in scrubs and goggles handle the birds as briefly as possible. While we were walking alongside the cages, the workers were giving a newly arrived pelican a once-over. The three-foot-tall bird seemed small in their arms, and didn’t struggle.

I’ll go into more details about the cleaning process for the birds tomorrow, in addition to uploading some photos. Jackie’s headed out on a NOAA boat, and I think I’m going down to Grand Isle to learn about the effects of the oil spill down there. Stay tuned for another video message from Jay Holcomb as well.

 


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