Because the Gulf of Mexico provides wintering habitat for millions of Canada's migratory birds, concern has increased about the boreal species' return this fall.
“The world’s largest migration occurs every year when billions of birds fly from Canada to areas south, including the Gulf Coast,” said Dr. Jeff Wells, senior scientist at the Boreal Songbird Initiative. “We’re not sure what these birds will face when they return to areas hit by the oil spill, but certainly a large number of birds could be vulnerable to illness or even death.” [Click on the image to see a larger version.]
The migratory birds of Canada’s Boreal Forest represent a significant percentage of the birds that winter in the Gulf Coast region or stop during their travels farther south. As the world’s largest intact forest, Canada’s Boreal Forest is home to more than 300 bird species, including 80 percent of North American waterfowl species, 63 percent of finches and 53 percent of warblers.
“There’s been a lot of attention to oil spill effects on local resident species,” Wells said, “but there’s a lurking time bomb for many waterfowl and shorebirds that breed in Canada’s Boreal Forest and winter or stop in the Gulf.”
Wells and other experts are concerned that the birds could face long- and short-term negative effects to shoreline habitat, necessary food sources and health.
Currently, nesting birds such as terns, gulls and pelicans are hit hardest by the oil spill. Louisiana’s coast supports an estimated 77 percent of the U.S. breeding population of Sandwich Tern, 52 percent of Forster’s Tern and 44 percent of Black Skimmer. Many of North America’s most at-risk species also live in the region during a portion of the year, including Yellow Rail, Black Rail, Snowy Plover, Piping Plover and Short-billed Dowitcher. The oil spill could pose long-term implications for the health of their total populations.
“We’ve really only seen the tip of the iceberg so far,” Wells said. “Species from the Boreal and other areas may encounter habitats and food sources contaminated with oil on their journey south that may cause illness or even mortality. These birds, and the generations to come after them, are endangered by the oil spill’s impact to critical marsh and beach habitat.”
Labels: conservation, oil spill