Coast bird lovers worry about spring migrations

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - Six months after Hurricane Katrina's storm surge left plastic bags high in their branches, the oaks along U-S Highway 90 near Gulfport look black and poisoned.

Some residents wonder if these trees will ever sprout leaves after being underwater.

Without the insects that leaves attract, migrating warblers and other birds may not stop to feed this spring.

Judith Toups, a co-author of a guide on bird migration, has been chronicling Katrina's effect on birds.

Toups says there is no food and what she sees are fewer birds.

Toups looks forward to the return of migratory songbirds, the bright-colored warblers and thrushes that each spring cross the Gulf from the Yucatan Peninsula and arrive on the coast hungry and weak.

Without food or the strength to fly farther, some may die - and that's especially bad news for species like the cerulean warbler and wood thrush, whose populations, say experts, have been cut in half through habitat loss.

Mississippi State University researcher Terry Schiefer says the birds that are most exhausted won't find as much food.

In February, purple martins returned to Mississippi.

Toups says their arrival heralds the migration of other spring birds that will find changed habitat.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)