Summertime is upon us now and with it comes loads of people participating in outdoor activities like hiking, sports, camping and activities on the water. Everyone looks forward to warmer weather after winter but some of those activities can impact birds and wildlife.
I photographed the Reddish Egret above in May of 2009 at Fort De Soto Count Park’s north beach. It was a warm morning and I was inside a lagoon kneeling on my knees while the egret was hunting, the action was intense and there were times the egret came in very close to me, it was so exciting and quick that I barely had time to make sure my exposure was okay before I fired off shot after shot of the Reddish Egret. I really liked this pose with the wings lifted, the great eye contact, the background and the beautiful light. It is a wonderful image… until you look closer.
This is the same image, I have just drawn lines to indicate what I saw when I got home and brought the series of images of this Reddish Egret up on my monitor. Every red line shows an area where some type of motor oil had saturated the Reddish Egret’s plumage. The marina isn’t too far from where I photographed this handsome wading bird as a crow flies and I suspect that there was a boat leaking oil that this egret inadvertently got into. The tips of the primaries were saturated, some of the secondaries, tail feathers and coverts also were coated in oil.
This image shows the oil saturated tail, the feathers near the vent, the upper scapulars and on top of the bird’s head. Reddish Egrets are often in water that reaches their under sides when they are actively hunting which means their tail and ventral area come in direct contact with the water and oils which are lighter than water will form a film on it and when it comes in contact with a birds feathers gets soaked up by them. Also while Reddish Egrets are hunting they push their heads under the water to get their prey which explains how the oil came to be on the egret’s head.
This view shows the dark stain of the oil and it also shows how matted the feathers were because of the oil. Even a quart of oil spread over a wide area of water can cause huge problems for the birds and wildlife that come in contact with it. The oil is poison, I won’t sugar coat that fact. It is poison to wildlife and it is poison to us. This bird got the oil on it in the same water that children would swim in.
This is an image of the same bird a week later, the darkness of the oil isn’t as evident on the primaries or the head but there is still oil stained and matted secondaries. Egret usually preen several times a day and this egret’s bill would have come into contact with those oily feathers which means the bird also ingested the oil which is poisonous. The egret eventually got the oil off and it did survive but many other animals that come into contact with oils don’t.
I hope that boaters will be careful this summer and not pollute our precious waters or poison the wildlife that depends on it. Our recreation shouldn’t endanger wildlife.
The oiled bird was reported to Jim Wilson, the park supervisor. During that period of a week I did see two other birds; a White Ibis and a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, with a small amount of oil on them. This situation could have been much worse.