Nightly News   |  June 04, 2010

Oil takes terrible toll on wildlife

As birds and other wildlife are inundated with oil in the Gulf of Mexico, questions are building about how the region and all its residents will recover from the disaster. NBC's Kerry Sanders reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: And now more on the struggle to survive, the struggle to help the wildlife along the coast, innocent victims of this disaster, nowhere to hide. The images, as we said, are heartbreaking. Kerry Sanders is in Fort Jackson , Louisiana , where some of those creatures are getting some help. Kerry , good evening.

KERRY SANDERS reporting: Well, good evening, Brian . Tonight the numbers tell the story. Biologists have rescued 85 birds so far covered in oil. Five hundred twenty-seven have been picked up dead. But BP says it's unclear if all of those died as a result of this unprecedented gusher. There's now a dramatic jump in the number of birds being rescued from the oil. What had been only one to four a day has now climbed to 53, and the rescue teams expect to it climb. Those birds trapped in that goopy ooze off east Grand Terre Island Thursday were left untouched by everyone on the governor's team. And that was on purpose. It looks like he's turning, looking for help.

Governor BOBBY JINDAL: Well, and again, the biologists are on their way. The biologists are coming out.

SANDERS: The experts say birds in distress should not be handled by anyone who is untrained. Thursday, wildlife agents located most of the birds we had seen with the governor, but not all of them. Some were just too hard to find. The birds they did rescue, including the brown pelicans, were rushed here to a makeshift animal hospital. After washing in soap, it takes seven to 10 days for the birds to rebuild their feathers' natural waterproofing.

Mr. JAY HOLCOMB (International Bird Rescue Research Center): They have nice fluffy feathers that allow them to be buoyant and waterproof and be in cold and warm climates. When they get oil on them, it weighs them down.

SANDERS: In some cases, as we saw here today, not all the birds survive. Many of the birds getting caught in the oil are migrating, coming from South America en route to this frozen tundra in the Arctic . Franz Josef Land is the destination of choice for sanderlings, red knots and terns -- if they can get past this hurdle. Once the birds recover, like the brown pelicans, the experts try to take them to Florida . But aside from releasing them there, where the oil is moving, there is another problem. The pelicans have this uncanny ability of following their internal homing device, a compass that brings them right back home here to Louisiana , which, of course, is where the

oil is. Brian: Man, it's tough to watch. Kerry Sanders down in the marsh in Louisiana . Kerry , thanks.