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Published September 23, 2010

The BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico sent oil into wetlands frequented by migrating birds. In response, U.S. farmers are flooding fields as far north as Missouri to create alternative, untainted stopovers for birds heading south for the winter.

© 2010 National Geographic

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UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT

SOME OF THE COASTAL INHABITANTS NEAR THE GULF OF MEXICO OIL SPILL REGION ARE ONLY TEMPORARY RESIDENTS.

AND ON THEIR WAY TO THEIR WINTER HOMES, MILLIONS OF MIGRATING BIRDS STOP OVER.

PEOPLE ARE TAKING SOME EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES IN HOPES THAT THE BIRDS WILL TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE OTHER, UNTAINTED WETLANDS IN PLACE OF THEIR NORMAL SPOTS.

THE MASSIVE OIL SPILL IS DRAWING TOGETHER A WIDE GROUP OF SCIENTISTS, GOVERNMENT BIOLOGISTS, ENVIRONMENTALISTS, HUNTERS AND PRIVATE LANDOWNERS.

Soundbite: John Pitre, Wildlife Biologist, USDA Wildlife Resources Conservation Service

“There’s a lot of birds that migrate through Louisiana. And a lot of them require wet habitat. And there’s not a lot of wet habitat left. We have a lot of wet agriculture that greatly benefits them- rice farming, crawfish farming, but by tweaking that operation just a little bit to add water and plant manipulations before or after typical operations it greatly benefits those birds.

PITRE HELPED WRITE A HABITAT PROGRAM INTENDED TO HELP THE FALL AND WINTER ARRIVALS. THEY’RE LITERALLY FLOODING FARMERS’ FIELDS TO ‘CREATE’ NEW WETLANDS, LIKE THIS FIELD IN JEFFERSON DAVIS PARISH, IN WESTERN LOUISIANA.

THE MIGRATORY BIRD HABITAT INITIATIVE AIMS TO CREATE CONDITIONS TO MIMIC NATURAL HABITAT FOR MANY DIFFERENT BIRDS.

Soundbite: Pitre

“You have an extremely large amount of birds- different suites of species from birds that use saturated soil to birds that use deepwater, all coming from northern breeding grounds down through the Continental United States, down to Lousiana.. the end of the Mississippi flyway.

THE EFFORT COVERS 8 STATES, AS FAR NORTH AS MISSOURI.

BIOLOGISTS HOPE THESE LANDS WILL LURE MANY ANIMALS TO STEER CLEAR OF OIL-TAINTED WETLANDS IN LOUISIANA AND OTHER COASTAL STATES.

Soundbite: Pitre  “Right now we know there are birds that use that intertidal area, pelicans, terns, gulls. We know they’ve been impacted. We don’t know how much sandpipers, or waterfowl that haven’t even migrated… we don’t know how they’re going to be impacted. But providing this habitat is a good thing to do, and it gives them alternative spots.”

A LOOK AT THE FIELDS SHOWS THEY ATTRACT MANY DIFFERENT TYPES OF BIRDS – FROM IBISES AND HERONS TO SANDPIPERS, DUCKS AND OTHER WATERFOWL POPULAR WITH HUNTERS… SOME OF WHOM ARE ALSO FARMERS HELPING IN THE EFFORT.

Soundbite: Dwayne Compton, Farmer, Owner Compton Farms

“We’re trying to stop the birds. They came out with this program and they said this will help stop the birds and ducks and all the migratory waterfowl heading down south.”

COMPTON IS A RICE FARMER, AND SAYS HE KEEPS A LOT OF HIS LAND FALLOW FOR UP TO THREE YEARS. WHILE THOSE FIELDS ARE IDLE, IT’S AN OPPORTUNITY TO HELP THE BIRDS.

Soundbite: Compton “I like the fact that when you drive around all those birds are there. And, I’m telling you before I cranked the pumps up they weren’t there at all. It definitely works. If you had been here a week ago, you would see the difference.”

IT IS STILL FAR TOO EARLY TO KNOW HOW THE SPILL WILL IMPACT MIGRATING BIRDS. BUT SO MANY FARMERS HAVE SIGNED UP FOR THIS INITIATIVE THAT THERE IS A LONG WAITING LIST TO BE INCLUDED.

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