Based on our limited experience, birds and mammals are more capable of handling the risk of a local fire and temporary smoke plume than of handling the risk posed by a spreading oil slick. Birds flying in the plume can become disoriented, and could suffer toxic effects. This risk, however, is minimal when compared to oil coating and ingestion.
The Times infographic showing the oil spill creeping toward Mobile Bay breaks my heart. If you’re someone who’s liable to find yourself using the phrase “Drill, baby, drill” in a non-ironic sense, please stop to read an account of what our thirst for oil is doing to our beautiful Gulf.