While BP announced it was making progress in funneling off oil spewing from a broken wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico, a U.S. government spokesperson said he expects the fight to contain the flow of crude will drag on until the fall.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is supervising Washington's response to the disaster, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that BP's funnel-like cap would not halt the spill entirely. Oil will continue to spill into the ocean until August, he predicted, when relief wells should be completed.

"Even after that, there will be oil out there for months to come," Allen said. "This will be well into the fall. This is a siege across the entire Gulf. This spill is holding everybody hostage, not only economically but physically. And it has to be attacked on all fronts."

It's been nearly seven weeks since the Deep Horizon oil rig exploded 80 kilometers off the Louisana coast, killing 11 workers and causing what has become the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

And the effects on wildlife are mounting. The number of birds of oiled birds arriving at the animal rescue centre in Fort Jackson, Louisiana, has taken a sharp turn upwards in recent days.

As heavy oil reaches shore from Louisiana to Florida, U.S. federal authorities say the number of dead birds, sea turtles and other wildlife collected remains in the hundreds -- 792, to be exact. Compared to the tens of thousands of birds, otters and other wildlife killed after the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound, the Gulf spill has so far exacted a relatively modest toll.

Unlike the Valdez, which spewed oil close to shore, scientists say much of the oil spewing since the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20 has remained in the open sea.

Darryl Malek-Wiley, an organizer with the Louisiana chapter of the Sierra Club, believes the effect on wildlife could be worse than what we are currently seeing.

In an interview from New Orleans Sunday, Malek-Wiley said the combination of a vast area of devastation and the very nature of wildlife makes taking account nearly impossible.

Some oiled birds stay put, Malek-Wiley told CTV News Channel. "But other times they'll fly off and then they'll be isolated out on the water where it's hard to find them."

While quantifying the damage is difficult, Gulf Coast residents watching oil reach their shoreline are increasingly frustrated. Citizens are turning up to help with the coastal clean up, only to find there's little they can do to assist the rescue crews contracted by BP PLC.

"They're not having classes to teach folks how to deal with handling wildlife and making sure the birds are not injured in the cleanup process," Malek-Wiley told CTV News Channel. Without specific training in both wildlife rescue and handling toxic materials it's hard for amateur rescuers to get involved, he added.

Nevertheless, Malek-Wiley says more resources are needed.

"I think there needs to be more people out in the marsh and wetlands looking for the birds... and more people also in the cleanup side."

With its diverse environment of marshes, beaches and coastal waters, the U.S. Gulf Coast is home to a multitude of wildlife. For instance, Queen Bess Island, Louisiana, is home to thousands of Brown Pelicans. As the only species of pelican that dives for fish, it is put at considerable risk by the oil.

Removed from the endangered species list last November, the Brown Pelican has, so far, offered a starkly visible symbol of the oil's effects. Once coated in oil, birds are at risk of death by ingesting the toxic crude, drowning or exposure.

But many experts, including the director of the environmental science and engineering at program at UCLA, fear the hidden effects of the spill could yet prove far worse.

"People naturally tend to focus on things that are most conspicuous, like oiled birds, but in my opinion the impacts on fisheries will be much more severe," Rich Ambrose told the AP, warning of the oil and dispersants spreading beneath the water's surface.

Since the spill began April 20, U.S. government officials estimate as many as 181 million litres of oil have leaked into the Gulf.

With files from The Associated Press