Oiled Pelicans, impacted from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, huddle together for warmth at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research after they were admited to a triage facility at Fort Jackson in Buras, Louisiana, Friday 4 June 2010. On of the side effects of being oiled is that the birds have trouble regulating their body temperature. MATTHEW HINTON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE

By The Associated Press
June 05, 2010, 10:46AM

By Seth Borenstein, AP Writer

They are the ghastly images of a summer fouled before it started. Squawking seagulls and majestic brown pelicans coated in oil. Click. Gunk dripping from their beaks. Click. Big eyes wide open. Click. Even the professionals want to turn away. They can't.

"They get me. It's just inherently sad," said Nils Warnock, a wildlife recovery specialist. "You see this bird totally covered in oil and all you can see are those eyes looking at you blinking. You'd have to be pretty tough not to be affected by that image."

Warnock didn't see the birds in person. He's in California, but the pictures still hit him in the gut. Warnock has been rescuing birds in oil slicks since 1985 and he still chokes up when talking about photos of birds he hasn't seen in person.

Now put yourself in Melanie Driscoll's shoes. She doesn't just see the pictures. She sees the birds close-up through her bird conservation work for the National Audubon Society across Louisiana. The pleading eyes get her, too. …

Up in Alaska, where it has been 21 years since the Exxon Valdez spill, residents watching the images of oiled birds are turning off their TV sets because it is just too hard to see, said Nancy Bird. She is director of the Prince William Sound Science Center, which still monitors the effects of the 1989 spill.

"I just wish that somebody would put them out of their misery very quickly," she said. "Watching an animal like that die a slow death is pretty disturbing." …

"If you're seeing oiled birds, we can assume that there's a lot of death going on," Rosenberg said. "They literally are an indicator of what's going on in the entire ecosystem."

Some species of birds, especially those that lurk hidden in marshes -- such as the clapper rail, seaside sparrow and mottled duck -- will not be photographed coated with oil. They'll just disappear sight unseen, Driscoll said.

"Those birds won't get their eulogy," Driscoll said. "They'll just disappear. It's an unseen tragedy."

Birds frozen in Gulf spill oil: Image of a desperate summer

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