The massive oil spill bearing down on Louisiana’s fragile coast wetlands comes at the worst time for untold numbers of nesting birds and spawning fish whose young are most vulnerable to the toxic sludge.
Nearly all migratory birds in the Western Hemisphere stop over in the marshes surrounding the mouth of the Mississippi river and tens of thousands are currently guarding eggs laid along the shores.
There are brown pelicans – which were only recently removed from the endangered species list. There are terns, and gulls, and herons, and egrets, ducks and sparrows.
If they get coated in oil they can die in a matter of days or even hours. And since they fish close to the nests, they can also carry the oil back to their young.
The timing will make it harder to reach and rescue oiled birds because of the risk of trampling the eggs, said Jay Holcomb, director of International Bird Rescue Research Center.