Special Reports

Local rescue groups prepare to aid oiled birds

SARASOTA — Sheets, paper towels, Dawn dish detergent, heating pads and outdoor electrical cords.They want it all and they want it fast.

Wildlife response teams along Florida’s Gulf Coast are preparing for the worst as birds and other sea life are expected to arrive shortly from the Gulf oil spill area.

At Save Our Seabirds in Sarasota, workers at the non-profit organization on Tuesday were collecting supplies, including small dog and cat plastic kennels in which to keep recuperating birds, said office Manager Eileen Devin.

“It’s all coming in slowly but surely,” she said. “Little bits here and there. “Mostly, we’re getting Dawn, paper towels and sheets, but according to my boss it’s not a drop in the bucket. We need a lot more.”

Her boss is founder Lee Fox, a 20-year wildlife rescue veteran who in 1993 was instrumental in saving 85 percent of the birds treated after a 365-barrel oil spill in Tampa Bay.

“We have a trailer packed and ready. We’re waiting for word on where to go,” Devin said.

Not only do they need supplies, they need help.

As of Tuesday, their limited number of staffers were being stretched to the point of breaking as they prepared for a potential influx of injured wildlife.

“We have nine workers so if people want to volunteer, we can use help at the sanctuary with feeding and cleaning,” Devin said.

Gail Straight of Wildlife Inc. Education & Rehabilitation Center on Bradenton Beach, expressed caution about handling oiled birds.

“It’s not like you can just pick up birds and start washing them,” said Straight, a liaison with TriState Bird Rescue and Research, of Newark, Del., which BP has contacted to coordinate oiled wildlife response. “That oil is hazardous. Every bird that comes in has to be logged in, so people should not touch those birds. People can call me about volunteering and we’ll take their information and if and when we need volunteers, we’ll let them know.

“Right now we’re just waiting,” Straight said. “We’re hoping it just doesn’t come to Florida, but it’s not looking good.”

The head of American Bird Conservancy, a bird conservation group, said the toll from spill may be greater when factoring in the birds that will be affected out at sea.

“While the weather is restricting rescue efforts, I know that rescue groups are prepared to do everything humanly possible to capture and save as many oiled birds as they can find, but there are problems well beyond our abilities to mitigate or even count,” said the group’s president George Fenwick. “In addition to the potential catastrophic losses to shorebirds that we know to be at risk on their breeding grounds and in the wetlands around the gulf, the oil spill poses a serious threat to seabirds.”