Jay Holcomb of IBRRC explains why it’s so important to remove oil from a birds feathers. He also describes how an oiled pelican captured at the Gulf Oil leak is cleaned of crude this week at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Center in Louisiana.
When a bird encounters oil on the surface of the water, the oil sticks to its feathers, causing them to mat and separate, impairing the waterproofing and exposing the animals sensitive skin to extremes in temperature. This can result in hypothermia, meaning the bird becomes cold, or hyperthermia, which results in overheating. Instinctively, the bird tries to get the oil off its feathers by preening, which results in the animal ingesting the oil.