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Gulf oil spill: Only 1 out of 10 oiled birds are usually ever found

By Gary Bogue
Wednesday, May 5th, 2010 at 7:04 am in Birds, Oil, Oil Spills.

Oil spill and important bird areas (American Bird Conservancy)
american bird conservancy2

Bird Group Warns that Oiled Birds Found Onshore May Be a Fraction of the Total Toll on Birds From Gulf Spill

As bird rescue groups prepare to deal with hundreds or potentially thousands of oiled birds resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf, American Bird Conservancy President George Fenwick cautioned that the toll from the spill may be far greater when the unseen impacts are factored into the environmental disaster still ongoing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gulf of Mexico oil slick (U.S. Coast Guard)
gulf-oil-spill-slick-2010, US Coast Guard

“While the weather is restricting rescue efforts, I know that rescue groups are prepared to do  everything humanly possible to capture and save as many oiled birds as they can find, but there are problems well beyond our abilities to mitigate or even count.  In addition to the potential catastrophic losses to shorebirds that we know to be at risk on their breeding grounds and in the wetlands around the gulf, the oil spill poses a serious threat to seabirds,” Fenwick said.

“Many will likely die unseen far out in the Gulf.  For instance, in the Exxon Valdez spill, it was estimated that assistance and rescue staff only saw about one of every ten birds affected.  Luckily, in this case, most of the adult gannets have already headed north to their breeding grounds, so the juveniles are the ones that are likely to get affected in the Gulf right now.  In addition to these plunge-diving birds, surface foragers such as terns and gulls that alight on the water are vulnerable, particularly this time of year,” he said.

“Further, what is difficult to measure is the loss of future generations of birds when birds fail to lay eggs or when eggs fail to hatch.  Many of the birds are incubating eggs right now, and we know that even small amounts of oil on the parent’s feathers will kill the young,” he said.

“And bird prey bases are also impacted. The very fisheries that sustain the economy of the region also sustain the seabirds along the coast.  The impacts to fish stocks may have substantial, long-lasting effects on seabird,” he said.

American Bird Conservancy ( conserves native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats while building capacity of the bird conservation movement.

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