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Bad Place, Bad Timing for an Oil Spill

SEE RECENT POSTS: Slideshow: Life as usual—and oil spill’s effects—evident in Louisiana, Ways to help: eBird adds ability to record oiled birds, Oil Update: Leak still not capped; larger spill estimates, Looking Back on Wildlife Cleanup in a 1990 Oil Spill, eBird Gadget Tracks Gulf Coast Sightings


Estimates of oil spill jump higher, (to 60,000 barrels per day; New York Times)

Report from Melanie Driscoll, La Audubon, on oiled colonies and efforts to save oiled birds within them, (LABIRD listserv)

In case of storm, spill containment and relief drilling could be suspended, (New York Times)

Sea turtle swims through oil to nest on Alabama beach, (L.A. Times)

Report of oiled birds and vehicles driving through Least Tern Colony on Grand Isle, (LABIRD listserv)

New estimates double rate of spill in Gulf, (New York Times)

Cornell University team studying oil spill impact on wildlife, (WSYR TV, Syracuse, interview with Cornell Lab’s Ken Rosenberg)

In Louisiana marshes, a crude awakening, (NBC Nightly News, with interviews with Cornell Lab team)

Young bird artist amps up oil spill relief efforts, (Audubon blog)

Ingredients of controversial dispersants used on Gulf oil spill are secrets no more, (New York Times)

Scientists refute Obama’s 3-year cleanup prediction, (Fiscal Times)

BP plans to burn some oil pumping up to surface, (New York Times)

Even with a cleanup, spilled oil stays with us, (New York Times)

Birds in Barataria Bay hit hard, (L.A. Times)

Twelve (imperfect) ways to clean the Gulf, (New York Times op-ed)

Gulf oil spill: Wildlife toll grows as more oil washes ashore, (L.A. Times)

Pelicans, back from brink of extinction, face oil threat, (New York Times)

Birds frozen in oil: Image of a desperate summer, (National Public Radio)

Related Stories

Mississippi Audubon to host volunteer bird monitoring training Mon., June 7, (Erik Johnson via

’79 Gulf oil spill leaves sobering lessons for BP, (Associated Press)

Florida coast suffers first impact from oil spill, (Reuters)

Oil spill answers from bird conservation expert on the ground, (Audubon)

10 biggest oil spills in history, (Popular Mechanics)

Pensacola [Florida] readies for Gulf oil spill fallout, (Miami-Dade Breaking News)

BP oil spill: worst in history; scientists weigh in, (Fiscal Times, with quote from Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick)

Gulf oil spill has ‘perfect precedent’ in 1979 disaster, (Miami Herald)

Daily map and forecast updates, (Deepwater Horizon response team)

BP halts “top kill” effort to seal leaking oil well, (New York Times)

Where oil has made landfall, (New York Times infographic)

“Top kill” effort succeeds, Coast Guard admiral says, (LA Times)

A history of major oil spills, (New York Times infographic, with archived articles)

The great unknowns in Gulf oil spill, (Newsweek)

Day 36: What’s happening with the Gulf oil spill, (

Bird conservationist weighs in on oil spill, (National Public Radio interview with Audubon’s Melanie Driscoll)

Audubon important bird areas at risk from the Gulf oil spill, (Audubon interactive map)

Alabama: What this spill could do to coastal marshes, (Nature Conservancy Cool Green Science blog)

BP is sticking with its dispersant choice, (New Orleans Times-Picayune)


Map of the oil spill in the Gulf, (interactive map from New York Times)

Day 33: Heavy oil and carnage to Grand Terre Island, (American Birding Association blog)

Oil gushes from BP well as scientists study leak size, (Bloomberg BusinessWeek)

BP defends dispersant after EPA orders it changed, (Wall Street Journal)

U.S. agency overseeing oil drilling ignored warning of risks from its own scientists, (Washington Post)

What oil does to a saltmarsh, (Washington Post infographic)

Photos: Disaster unfolds slowly in the Gulf of Mexico, (Boston Globe)

Battle to contain Gulf oil spill continues (SeaWeb)

Oil slick enters the loop current (DC birding blog)

Giant plumes of oil forming under the Gulf (New York Times)

What are oil dispersants? (CNN)

Compare size of oil spill to size of major world cities, (Google Earth)

Bird rescuers helping in Gulf, (

A parents’ guide to the Gulf oil spill, (Wired magazine)

The birds of Breton Island, (on-the-scene report from Natural Resources Defense Council staff)

NOAA Deepwater Horizon Incident Emergency Response with current and forecast maps, progress updates

Oil spill crisis map compiles sightings from the public, (Louisiana Bucket Brigade)

Exxon Valdez: a glimpse of the future for Louisiana?, (New Orleans Times-Picayune)

FAQ: How oil-covered birds are cleaned, (Audubon)

Concerns up and down the food chain, (New York Times)

How bad is the oil spill? Ask the pelicans, Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick’s op-ed on

U.S. Gulf Coast bird colonies at risk from oil spill, (Reuters)

eBirders mobilize! Help survey Gulf Coast birds, (


Monitoring oil spill effects from Cornell, TV news (video)

Interactive oil spill map from ESRI (makers of GIS software)


Feds raise pressure on BP over oil spill, with comments from Ken Rosenberg of the Cornell Lab

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spill response website

Bird Habitats Threatened by Oil Spill, National Wildlife Federation lists the 10 most threatened

Oil Spill’s Potential Effects on Gulf’s Wildlife, CBS News

Gulf Coast Towns Brace as Huge Oil Slick Nears Marshes, New York Times article and video

Time magazine update, with quote from Cornell Lab’s director of conservation science, Ken Rosenberg

Get official oil spill updates on Twitter or Facebook

Official spill response website joint product of U.S. Coast Guard, Dept. of Homeland Security, NOAA, Dept. of the Interior, BP, and TransOcean

Oil May Be Leaking at Rate of 25,000 Barrels a Day in Gulf. Wall Street Journal (subscription)

Gulf Coast birds in danger. Audubon interim president Frank Gill writes an editorial about birds and oil drilling at

Report oiled wildlife at 866-557-1401 or volunteer to help

There’s never a good time or place for an oil spill, but the tragedy unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico is particularly bad. Our hearts go out to the victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and their families. Since the rig sank on April 22, attention has turned to the growing slick of oil that now covers some 600 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico and continues to grow by an estimated 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) per day.

Spring tides and southerly winds are pushing the oil toward the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and northern Florida, where delicate saltmarshes support a productive marine ecosystem, and barrier islands provide vulnerable nest sites for Brown Pelicans, Snowy Plovers, Least Terns, and many other species.

The timing is bad, too. It’s the peak of spring migration, and thousands upon thousands of shorebirds and songbirds will be crossing the Gulf of Mexico in the next few weeks. After flying nonstop from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, many of these birds will touch down on the first land they see—the beaches of the Gulf Coast. Late April and early May have in years past been magical days for Gulf Coast birdwatchers because of the stream of newly molted, spring-bright birds that come through. This year, there is likely to be oil waiting for them.

This disaster is being covered in detail in the news. We’ll monitor developments on this blog and highlight anything particularly relevant to migrating and breeding birds of the region. For now, these links may useful:

The National Audubon Society has issued a detailed assessment of the risks faced by birds of the region.

The New York Times has a map showing the oil spill’s extent as of April 29 and the locations of particularly vulnerable wildlife, including whales, tuna, and five species of birds. Their Lede blog is updating frequently.

For background, this BBC News article written last year, on the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, summarizes lessons learned from that disaster.

Discovery News quotes shorebird researcher Nils Warnock about what concerned people should—and shouldn’t—do if they see oiled wildlife.

The Cornell Lab would like to send sympathy, good luck, and best wishes to the people and the birds of Louisiana and the northern Gulf Coast.

(Image: White-rumped Sandpiper by Tim Lenz via Birdshare)

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library