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Gulf Coast Wildlife Needs Our Help

by Tim Gallagher
oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon, injured oiled birds need help

The oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon well is an ecological catastrophe of unprecedented magnitude for all of the birds, fish, marine mammals, and other wildlife in the area and the habitats they need to survive.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has been working to document the effects of the massive leak and assess the damage to the Gulf ’s sensitive ecosystem. Birders who participate in eBird have been especially helpful, providing more than 175,000 bird observations from Gulf Coast states, including data on at least 11 species that were seen with oiled feathers. These data will help greatly with the recovery effort as researchers and government agencies set priorities for spill containment and cleanup efforts.

In addition, the Cornell Lab’s Multimedia program sent a video crew to the Gulf to document the effects of the oil spill on birds for researchers, policy makers, and the public. They were there at Louisiana’s Barataria Bay on June 8 as oil washed past the booms and into the sensitive marshes. They videotaped 14 species with oiled plumage, including Brown Pelicans (see photo above), Roseate Spoonbills, Sanderlings, Black-necked Stilts, and more.

Something that has received less attention than the oil spill’s harm to birds is its potential effect on marine mammals and fish. One of the tragedies of the Gulf spill is that so little comprehensive baseline data exists about the marine life in the Gulf, which could make it difficult to assess how seriously these animals are being affected by the spill. One dead sperm whale and a number of porpoises have washed up since the spill, although the cause of their deaths is still to be determined. The Cornell Lab’s Bioacoustics Research Program, which has extensive experience in monitoring whales, has already begun deploying autonomous underwater recorders to pick up the sounds of sperm whales, Bryde’s whales, and other underwater life in the Gulf—both in areas already affected and in areas so far unaffected by the oil—to see if they can detect changes in the numbers and movements of these animals as the oil spill spreads.

Lab of Ornithology members and other concerned citizens have been contacting us since the start of the oil spill to see how they can help. Birders can make a vital contribution by submitting Gulf Coast bird sightings to eBird at or by making a donation to help with the Lab’s conservation work, either on our website or by calling (866) 989-BIRD (2473).

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library