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Canada geese on the road to recovery after oil spill

"When the oil penetrates their feathers, they can lose body heat and become wet and chilled," says Lisa Smith, director of Tri State Bird Rescue. (Courtesy Tri State Bird Rescue)

WASHINGTON — When mineral oil from a Dominion Power substation in Crystal City, Virginia made its way into the Potomac River near Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary in early February, 52 birds became coated in oil.

Once the first oiled birds were spotted, many of which were Canada geese, Tri-State Bird Rescue of Delaware was called in to help. It quickly responded to Arlington, and rounded up close to 40 birds.

“The birds that came to our facility are generally doing pretty well,” said Lisa Smith with Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research.

Smith said not only were the birds’ feathers coated, but they also ingested the oil. To save them, the birds had to be given fluids and Pepto-Bismol to help them clear their systems of the oil.

After the birds were stabilized, the focus shifted to cleaning off the oil.

“After they were washed and rinsed and dried, they really perked up,” Smith said.

The cleaning process left some of the birds with featherless patches, but Smith said for most, their feathers are already coming back.

Smith said a few of the birds, which were not healthy before becoming oiled, did not survive.

“For some birds, if they’re underweight, if they’ve ingested more oil, the stress of the wash procedure, sometimes it’s just too much,” she said.

The Coast Guard said 21 birds in total died as a result of the spill.

The surviving flock is spending the days in pens with pools. They are preening, which helps their feathers become waterproof once again. Smith said when the weather warms up the birds will be allowed to spend some time outside.

Smith said some of the geese could be released as early as next week. It is likely the birds will be released close to where they were rounded up, but that decision ultimately belongs to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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