Audubon Fears Imperiled Birds Will Be Next Victims of Gulf Oil Disaster

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

David Ringer
601-661-6189
Missisissippi River Initiative Communications Coordinator
dringer@audubon.org

Delta Willis
212-979-3197
Senior Communications Manager
dwillis@audubon.org

Audubon Fears Imperiled Birds Will Be Next Victims of Gulf Oil Disaster

"This spill would give anyone pause regarding the pursuit of risky drilling in environmentally sensitive coastal areas."

NEW YORK - Audubon experts across the Gulf Coast are
monitoring the spread of thousands of gallons of oil that threaten to
turn last week's drilling platform explosion into a growing
environmental disaster.

"The terrible loss of 11 workers may be just the beginning of this
tragedy as the oil slick spreads toward sensitive coastal areas vital
to birds and marine life and to all the communities that depend on
them," said Melanie Driscoll an Audubon bird conservation director, who
is monitoring the situation from her base in Louisiana. "For birds, the
timing could not be worse; they are breeding, nesting and especially
vulnerable in many of the places where the oil could come ashore."

Sensitive coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida
are all potential targets of the growing spill. "The efforts to stop
the oil before it reaches shore are heroic, but may not be enough,"
added Driscoll. "We have to hope for the best, but prepare for the
worst, including a true catastrophe for birds."

In Florida, Audubon is recruiting volunteers and making its Center for
Birds of Prey available for bird cleansing and rehabilitation.
Elsewhere, the organization is gearing up to help mobilize volunteers
and provide other assistance in the event the oil reaches sensitive
shorelines.

Several "Important Bird Areas," designated by Audubon and its partners
for their essential habitat value to bird species lie within
potentially-affected areas. Those under immediate threat include
Chandeleur Islands IBA and Gulf Islands National Seashore IBA in
Louisiana and Mississippi; and the Active Delta IBA in Louisiana, which
includes Delta National Wildlife Refuge and Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife
Management Area.

Among the birds are prompting special concern:

Brown Pelican -The state bird of Louisiana nests on barrier islands and
feeds near shore. Their breeding season just began and many pairs are
already incubating eggs. Removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list
only late last year, Brown Pelicans remain vulnerable to storms,
habitat loss and other pressures. Their relatively low reproductive
rate means any disruption to their breeding cycle could have serious
effects on the population.

Beach-nesting terns and gulls (Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern,
Least Tern, Laughing Gull, Black Skimmer) - These birds nest and roost
in groups on barrier islands and beaches. Some species have begun
nesting or building pair bonds in preparation for nesting. They feed on
fish and other marine life. Roosting and nesting on the sand and
plunging into the water to fish, they are extremely vulnerable oil on
the surface or washing ashore.

Beach-nesting shorebirds (American Oystercatcher, Wilson's Plover, Snowy Plover)

-These birds nest on the ground on barrier islands and beaches. They
feed on small invertebrates along the beach or – in the case of
oystercatchers – on oysters. They are at risk if oil comes ashore or
affects their food sources.

Reddish Egret – Populations of these large, strictly coastal egrets
have dwindled due to habitat loss and disturbance. As specialized
residents of coastal environments, they have nowhere else to go if
their feeding and nesting grounds are fouled by oil.

Large wading birds (Roseate Spoonbill, Ibises, Herons, Egrets) - Many
herons, egrets and other species feed in marshes and along the coast
and nest in large colonies called rookeries. They are vulnerable if oil
comes ashore in these areas. The central Gulf Coast region hosts
continentally and globally significant populations of many of these
birds.

Marsh birds – (Mottled Duck, Clapper Rail, Black Rail, Seaside Sparrow,
Marsh-Dwelling Songbirds) – Many of these birds are extremely
secretive, hindering understanding of their population dynamics.
Recovery efforts would be difficult or impossible if oil accumulates in
the coastal salt marshes where they live

Ocean-dwelling birds -Birds that spend a significant portion of their
lives at sea, including the Magnificent Frigatebird, may be affected by
oiled waters. Contact with oil could lead to ingestion or damage to
feathers. Oil also threatens their food supplies. These birds are
difficult to monitor, and potential impacts are not fully understood.

Migratory shorebirds (plovers, sandpipers and relatives) - These birds'
travels span the western hemisphere. But many species are currently en
route from wintering grounds in South America to breeding grounds in
boreal forests and arctic tundra. They congregate in great numbers on
beaches and barrier islands to rest and refuel during their long
journeys.

Migratory songbirds (warblers, orioles, buntings, flycatchers,
swallows, and others)- Many of our most colorful and familiar summer
songbirds fly nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico twice each year as they
migrate between their breeding and wintering grounds. The biggest push
of spring migrants moves across the gulf during a two-week period from
late April to early May. The journey across 500 miles of open water
strains their endurance to its limits. They depend on clear skies and
healthy habitats on both sides of the gulf in order to survive the
journey.

"It is unfortunate that it takes a potential disaster to remind the
nation of the risks involved with our addiction to oil," said Audubon
Legislative Director Mike Daulton. "This spill would give anyone pause
regarding the pursuit of risky drilling in environmentally sensitive
coastal areas. For the long term, we need to move as quickly as
possible from the addiction to fossil fuels to the promise of clean,
renewable energy."

Maps of Audubon Important Bird Areas in the region http://louisianacoast.audubon.org/birds-science-education/important-bird-areas/what-are-important-bird-areas

Brown pelicans recently delisted from being an Endangered species http://web1.audubon.org/news/pressRelease.php?id=1940&month=11-09

 

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