Will the Gulf Oil Spill Affect Your Backyard Birds?

As oil washes ashore along the Gulf Coast, we here at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are asking birders to keep an eye on nesting birds—not just near water, but hundreds of miles inland.

Wildlife biologists are monitoring species such as pelicans and plovers in the immediate path of the oil, but we need bird watchers across the country to help us find out if birds that pass through or winter in the Gulf region carry contamination with them, possibly creating an “oil shadow” of declines in bird reproduction hundreds of miles from the coast.

If you have an interest in birds, you can learn how to find and monitor nests as part of the Cornell Lab’s NestWatch project (www.nestwatch.org). You visit a nest for a few minutes, twice per week, and record information such as how many eggs it contains, how many chicks hatch, and how many leave the nest.

Many birds that nest in backyards all across North America, such as Red-winged Blackbirds and Tree Swallows, spend part of the year along the Gulf of Mexico, where they could be affected by the oil spill. We know that toxins often have profound effects on reproduction, and it’s possible that toxins encountered in one environment can affect the birds in another environment, after they arrive on their breeding grounds.

When you take part in NestWatch, information collected across large regions helps scientists assess changes in nesting success in relation to environmental factors such as habitat loss, climate change, and pollution.

Citizen-science participants have been helping the Cornell Lab monitor the success rates of nesting birds for 45 years. Now, it’s especially critical to capture data on nesting birds to reveal the health of birds before they encounter the oil spill—as well as in the years ahead, to detect possible long-term effects.

If you would like to be part of this effort, please visit www.nestwatch.org. Thank you for helping the birds!


Laura Burkholder, project leader
[email protected]

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