While the laughing gull had traces of oil on its body, an injury prevented it from taking wing to get off the island, said Olson, a deputy project leader with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service assigned to help with the recovery of oiled birds.
Still, officials said that while oil is no longer gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, wildlife along the Gulf Coast continues to feel the spill’s effects.
“We’ve been finding birds every day in the bay,” said U.S. Fish & Wildlife biologist Deirdre Whelan of Maine.
Bird recovery teams from the federal agency will continue to monitor the Gulf Coast for oiled birds for years to come, according to a spokeswoman for Fish & Wildlife.
“We see this as a long-term effort,” said Nancy Brown.
Since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf on April 20, 629 visibly oiled birds have been recovered, according to Fish & Wildlife officials. Olson and Whelan have spent the past 10 days scouring the waters of Mobile Bay by boat, searching for more.
“Anything we find, alive or dead, we bring in,” Whelan said, adding that the birds are examined to determine cause of death.
“We’re seeing more birds dead of natural mortality than oil,” said Olson, who is from Litchfield, Minn.
A two-hour boat trip in Mobile Bay and to Gaillard Island on Monday morning netted two birds. Both were captured, put in a crate and taken back to the Dog River Marina, where Disabled Animal Rescue Teams were waiting to transport the birds to the Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Theodore.
Wearing rubber gloves, Olson held the bird as Whelan wrote a report, noting the bird’s condition and whether it had been oiled.
“It’s alert,” Whelan said, as the bird struggled to get free.
Olson said they are finding more birds now because they just recently started going into nesting areas that were off limits during nesting season.
At the outset of the trip, boat captain Darrell Roberts slowly motored the boat along the tide line, looking for birds. Olson used binoculars to look for white objects in the water. That usually means a laughing gull “belly up,” dead in the water dead, she said.
As Roberts steered the boat back to the marina, Olson spotted something in the water. “Go to your hard right,” she told Roberts.
“Everybody look for something white,” she instructed the crew.
Roberts slowed the boat toward the object, which turned out to be a dead fish.