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A flock of Northern Pintail and other waterfowl head skyward. As migrating season begins, Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana and other refuges are planting and flooding new acreage in hopes of diverting some birds from the oiled Gulf coast
A flock of Northern Pintail and other waterfowl head skyward. As migrating season begins, Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana and other refuges are planting and flooding new acreage in hopes of diverting some birds from the oiled Gulf coast.
Credit: Gary Kramer,USFWS

Hoping to Divert Migratory Birds

If only birds could read, wildlife experts could flash signs at them saying: "New all-you-can-eat buffet. Stop here." As the fall migratory season begins, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its conservation partners are trying the next best thing. In an extraordinary move, they're flooding hundreds of acres in Louisiana, east Texas and Mississippi and cultivating additional tons of rice and grains, in hopes of diverting migratory birds from oiled beaches and waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the augmented bird habitat is on National Wildlife Refuges.

Every fall, millions of migratory birds, more than 70 species of waterfowl, seabirds, wading birds, shore birds and marsh birds, stop along the Gulf of Mexico to rest and refuel before heading south to wintering grounds in Central and South America. Some are already en route.

While some refuges have tried in the past to keep birds off contaminated habitat, "never before have we tried to redirect birds on a scale like this," said Larry Williams, chief of budget performance and workforce for the Refuge System. "It's unprecedented."

One refuge project, on Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, involves planting 120 acres of impoundments in rice for migrating ducks and waterfowl and flooding a third impoundment for shorebirds. Two new wells, funded with $127,000 in grant money from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and $100,000 in contributions from private conservation partners, will supply water for the rice cultivation. The Service spent $15,000 to have the test wells drilled.

In July, refuge staff sprayed and mowed the impoundments, before planting using a seed drill. Heavy rain delayed some operations. The planting is completed, and now they are praying for rain.

Will the effort pay off? "It may help," said Bob Strader, whose role as refuge manager at St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge, across the Mississippi River near Natchez, Mississippi, includes responsibility for Bayou Cocodrie Refuge. "We've got to try to do something. This is a pretty good effort. It may keep a few birds from going to the coast and getting in the oil, especially if there are a lot of people moving around there. If there’s a disturbance issue, they may come back north. Or hopefully the shorebirds will be so fat and happy that they’ll keep going to South America and won’t have to stop on the southeast Louisiana coast at all."

Deisha Norwood, manager at Bayou Cocodrie Refuge, said bird population surveys this winter might help experts gauge the success of the flooding and planting efforts. But it will be hard to compare numbers, she said, because past survey data are thin.

Regardless, Norwood said, getting water on the impoundments has been a long-time refuge goal, consistent with its mission. "That's what we’re here for, to provide habitat for migratory birds," she said.

For more information about the Service's habitat augmentation efforts, visit: http://www.fws.gov/news/NewsReleases/showNews.cfm?newsId=B23A86C6-D764-D9E3-8A8F8727EA2A7D45.

To learn more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's response, visit: http://www.fws.gov/home/dhoilspill/index.html

To learn more about Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge, visit: http://www.fws.gov/bayoucocodrie/ or call 318-336-7119.

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June 19, 2012m1 -->June 19, 2012
June 19, 2012m1 -->June 19, 2012