I write in a studio with a south-facing window, four blocks north of the Gopher Campfire Wildlife Sanctuary on the Crow River in Hutchinson. This morning, the usual suspects took wing: a few bachelor mallards, Canada geese and herons. American White Pelicans soared, riding the thermals. The squeaky-pump calls of yellow-headed blackbirds flow from a nearby storm-water pond.
This spells trouble for the migratory birds that now grace the skies in my neighborhood. The Christmas Bird Count range map from the USGS’s Patuxent Bird Identification Infocenter above illustrates the places where the pelicans winter. They’re not the only birds who will be heading to Louisiana this winter.
News accounts now say that the leak itself may continue until August, and the cleanup many months after. How will that effect Minnesota’s migratory birds?
It doesn’t look good for them.
PRI’s The World discussed the potential effects of the spill on migratory birds wintering or passing through the ruined habitat in the Impact of Gulf oil spill on migratory birds:
MARCO WERMAN: Even if you live far from the Gulf coast, you may eventually see the effects of the oil spill in your own backyard. That’s because millions of migratory birds pass through the spill area on their way to nesting grounds across North America. Some of those birds could be sickened on their annual journey. The World’s environment editor, Peter Thomson spoke to a conservationist about that concern and filed this report.
PETER THOMSON: Imagine you’re a gray cheeked thrush, you weight about one ounce, you’ve flown 3,000 miles from your wintering grounds in Brazil on your way to Northern Canada. You’re tired and hungry. You settle into a patch of coastal Louisiana to rest and eat. Say it’s the spring of 2011, a year after the Deep Water Horizon blow out and the gloppy brown oil from the wrecked off shore rig has been scooped off the beaches. Everything here looks like it always did before the spill, but there’s still a problem.
MIKE PARR: Oil, it has the capacity to soak into marshy areas and be held there and released slowly over a really long period of time.
THOMSON: That’s Mike Parr, Vice President of the American Bird Conservancy, which advocates for protection of birds and their habitats. He says oil’s tenacity means that even long after the obvious effects of a spill are gone, oil can linger in coastal environments and work its way into the food chain. Eating contaminated food might not kill the birds outright, like direct contact with the oil might, but it can have what are called “sub lethal” effects.
PARR: All those types of things can affect breeding success. It starts to have effect on the liver, the GI tract, and on vision and obviously that’s going to make it difficult for birds to forage and probably difficult for them to feed their chicks effectively. . . .
How bad is it?
At its annual meeting last week, the board of directors of Ducks Unlimited unanimously passed a resolution stressing the group’s commitment to restoring wetlands along the Gulf Coast. In a video on the DU site, Dr. Tom Moorman, director of conservation planning for the Southern Region calls the coastal Lousiana “the most important wintering area for waterfowl on the continent of North America.”
As many birders know, the habitat preservation efforts groups like Ducks Unlimited doesn’t simply help game species, but other wildlife as well.
The National Audubon Society has created a Gulf Oil Spill media page, Oil Spill Impact and Response Expanding. While its focus is on the immediate effects of the spill on species now nesting on the coast, the implications this winter for the birds I see now in Minnesota is sobering.
The environmental impact of what is now reckoned as the largest oil spill in U. S. history continues to unfold. Oil is now being seen from Louisiana to Mississippi, and there are fears that the loop current will carry it up the Atlantic Coast. (Read more)
Audubon staff are seeing increasing numbers of oiled birds, and fears of long term effects on birds, marine life and Gulf coast communities are mounting. Audubon has urged speedy Congressional authorization of emergency funding to address the unfolding crisis. (Read statement)
…Audubon has joined with other conservation leaders in calling for the Administration to exercise more direct oversight of public safety protection, environmental monitoring, and environmental testing in response to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. (Read letter)
It’s rare for me to look into a research subject and find that I can look no more into the truths that inquiry discloses.
I’m going to do some birding now.
Images: Christmas Bird Count locations of American White Pelicans (top); Pelicans in flight (bottom).