May / June, 2015
Thanks For Visiting Us at the Olive and Grape in Greenwood!
For the largest of the Phinney and Greenwood Art Walks, City Escapes Nature Photography paired up with the Olive and Grape, a lovely Mediterranean restaurant in Greenwood, to give you great art and great food simultaneously! We have a number of our large prints displayed on the walls, where you can see them until May 28th, and Jodi was on hand Friday, May 8, between 6 and 9 pm, for the official celebration.
Thanks for all of you who showed up and helped make this event a great success!
How Oil Spills Affect Birds
Lately it seems that more and more oil spills are making the news, especially from the derailment of trains carrying oil tankers. While none have been as dramatic as the Deepwater Horizon or Exxon Valdez spills, all nonetheless have a profound impact on the flora and fauna they touch. A few months ago, I was witness to the cleaning and rehabilitation of some ducks that had been covered – drenched, more accurately – in a tar spill, and I realized that although I know that oil and other spills create dire situations for wildlife, I knew almost nothing about the actual manner in which harm is done. Here is a taste of what I learned. Though it is by no means a comprehensive list of the dangers that oil spills pose to birds, it is at least a primer.
Oil (tar, diesel, etc.) has so many deleterious effects on birds it is difficult to know where to begin. One of the most obvious effects is on the birds' feathers. These amazing little marvels of natural engineering do so much more than enable a bird to fly; they provide waterproofing, regulate body temperature, provide buoyancy for waterfowl, transport water back to nestlings … I could go on and on. Oil causes the individual fibers in feathers to separate, clump, and mat. This releases the air trapped in the downy parts of the feathers next to the birds' bodies, which in turn makes the birds' body temperature plummet, and keeps the bird from being able to regulate it on their own. (Tar, incidentally, can make the birds' temperature soar, as it creates a very sticky, solid matting that does not allow any heat to escape.) This, in and of itself, is enough to kill a bird under the right circumstances. But wait; there's more.
Due to the same matting and separation of the feather fibers, oil also damages a bird's waterproofing. This waterproofing is created by the precise alignment of the individual parts of the feathers, which have tiny barbs on the ends of each fiber that hook together in a manner reminiscent of Velcro. The waterproofing is assisted by a layer of natural oil that the bird itself makes and distributes over its feathers during preening. No waterproofing means greater susceptibility to the elements. Imagine being in a terrible, cold rainstorm with no coat and no warm house to come into and dry off in afterward, and you get an idea of why this is bad.
Oil can also cause chemical burns on the delicate skin and eyes of birds, which can lead to a whole host of additional problems. Keep in mind that birds and other wildlife are usually covered over large portions of their bodies by these spills, and therefore risk having a significant percentage of their skin burned. Shock can set in, which is just as dangerous for animals as it is for humans.
Birds may try to clean the oil off of their feathers by preening, or eat oiled foods (or foods that have themselves eaten oiled foods). This results in the ingestion of oil, which can wreak havoc on the birds' internal organs. Lesions; ulcers; liver, kidney, and lung damage; intestinal poisoning… The list of deleterious effects is quite long.
Tar has a few more effects that I had not initially considered, but that are worth mentioning here. For one, it is heavy. A tar-coated bird must expend significantly greater amounts of energy to simply expand its chest cavity enough to breathe. It may not have sufficient strength to do so. If the bird's head and neck are coated, it may not be able to lift its head. To add an even greater challenge, tar will begin to harden after a while, making breathing that much more difficult. Tar is also ridiculously sticky. Even if the bird has no problem expanding its chest cavity, the tar can seal a bird's beak and nostrils shut, also resulting in a terrible, suffocating death. Tar is more difficult to remove than oil, as well. But as our beautiful, happily back in their natural habitat ducks proved, it can be done.
Now that you are thoroughly depressed, is there any good news? Yes – many birds can be helped. The best way to help them, of course, is to prevent oil spills in the first place. That, however, is a topic for another day and another place. Depending upon the size of the spill, many birds will likely succumb to the dangers, but a good number can be saved with the right rescue teams in place and a quick response. Teams trained in how to clean birds, minimize the effects of ingested oil, and properly care for the animals through their rehabilitation can work true wonders. Meanwhile, other teams are needed to repair and restore damaged habitat, so that the birds have a safe place to return to once their rehab is complete. If you are interested in learning how to help birds, contact your local wildlife hospital or other organization dedicated to the welfare of our feathered friends. You can provide assistance in many forms, from direct financial donations to volunteering to assisting with advertising and fundraising. Seeing a newly-clean and healthy bird waddle its way back to the outdoors is a tremendously satisfying reward for your efforts.
As mentioned above, feathers do so much more than help a bird to fly. We all know that they can also attract a mate or provide camouflage. But did you know about these lesser-known functions of some types of feathers?
· Feathers can help some bird species escape being the main entrée on a predator's dinner plate. In a process known as a "fright molt," some birds can lose a number of tail feathers when threatened or severely frightened. The predator, instead of a lovely dinner, is left with only a mouthful of feathers.
· Parent birds soak their belly feathers in water as a means of transporting the wet stuff back to their nest. They can then give their young ones a drink, or moisten their eggs to prevent them from drying out.
· It is thought that dark-colored feathers might provide a natural SPF for birds' sensitive skin.
· Ever thought of feathers as snowshoes? In winter, the feet of grouse are covered in feathers. This increases their surface area, and allows the bird to walk on top of snow instead of sinking into it.
· Birds carry their own sun shades in the form of their feathers. On bright, sunny days some birds, such as herons, will cover their heads with their wings while fishing to enable them to see into the water better, while others, such as osprey, will spread their wings above their eggs and chicks to keep them cool.
· When people eat fish, we have to be careful of the small, sharp bones. If we ingest them, they can cause quite the intestinal issues. What do you do if you are a bird that eats fish whole? Why, you eat your own feathers, of course! These feathers then line the digestive tract and protect the bird from those damaging bones.
Many thanks to Arizona State University for this month's Fun Facts!
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