Press Room

Oil Reaches Important Bird Areas

Reports of oil reaching the Chandeleur Islands mark the initial assault of the massive Gulf Oil Spill on the first of 25 recognized Important Bird Areas (IBAs) that line the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to south Florida. Designated by Audubon in conjunction with Birdlife International, the sites provide essential habitats to hundreds of species. South of Gulfport, Mississippi, the Chandeleurs are breeding habitat for Sandwich and Royal Terns, plus Brown Pelicans—only recently removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list and just beginning to bounce back. 

               Statement of Audubon President Dr. Frank Gill

"This is another sad milestone in a disaster unfolding in slow motion. This massive oil slick is churning around in the Gulf and emulsifying into a thick, deadly 'mousse' that will extinguish life and destroy habitats.

"Seabirds like the Northern Gannet and an array of marine life have already been hit and now, many more victims are now likely to succumb. We may never know the full extent of the damage to the creatures that spend their lives beneath the waves or suspended between sea and sky. Millions of birds migrate across the Gulf at this time of year, returning from their winter homes in South America.

"Audubon is taking action in the face of this crisis. We are strengthening partnerships with state and federal agencies and forging new alliances to ensure that when more birds and habitats are affected, the Audubon grassroots network of concerned Americans can spring into action and do what needs to be done. But the recovery will be slow and difficult for people and wildlife alike. We already are launching new efforts that go beyond the emergency response. Thousands of citizen-science volunteers will help to confirm the location and status of birds now and to monitor the impact after the deadly oil arrives.

"Birds may be the most visible indicator of how this disaster is affecting the ecosystems that sustain human and wild communities across the region. By protecting birds, preserving and restoring habitats, and investing in communities along the Gulf Coast, Audubon has been helping wildlife and people for decades. And we will not stop now. We will be here as this disaster unfolds, doing everything we can to mitigate harm and support cleanup and recovery efforts. And we will be here long after the headlines fade, doing our job for the sake of birds, other wildlife, and the human communities that call the Gulf Coast home."

Audubon experts are available to assist journalists in assessing the threat of the spill to birds and habitat and the needs of short and long-term recovery.

For updates on Audubon initiatives and what people can do to help

See our Press Room for resources including Photos and Maps

Audubon's Louisiana Coastal Initiative

Maps of Audubon Important Bird Areas in the region

Brown pelicans recently delisted from being an Endangered species

Video of Roosevelt on Chandeleur

Important Bird Areas in the Gulf Region

Coastal IBAs in LA:

-- Chandeleur Islands (Breton National Wildlife Refuge) (Plaquemines, St. Bernard Parishes)

-- Active Delta (Mississippi River Birdsfoot Delta) (Plaquemines Parish) East Delta Plain (Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines Parishes)

-- Barataria-Terrebone (Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. Charles, Lafourche, Terrebone, St. Mary Parishes)

-- Iles Dernieres-Timbalier Islands (Terrebone Parish)

-- Atchafalaya Delta (St. Mary Parish)

-- Chenier Plain (Iberia, Vermilion, Cameron Parishes )

Coastal IBAs in MS:

-- Gulf Islands National Seashore (Harrison and Jackson Counties) Deer Island (Harrison County)

-- Gulfport (Harrison County)

-- Hancock County Marsh Coastal Preserve (Hancock County)

-- Pascagoula River Marsh Coastal Preserve (Jackson County)

-- Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve/National Wildlife Refuge (Jackson County)

Coastal IBAs in AL:

- Bon Secour NWR and Peninsula (Baldwin County)

-- Dauphin Island (Mobile County)

-- Grand Bay Savannah (Mobile County)

Coastal IBAs in FL (east to Tampa area):

-- Bay County Beaches (Bay County)

-- Gulf Islands National Seashore and Adjacent Areas (Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa Counties)

-- St. Joseph Bay (Gulf County)

-- Dog Island-Lanark Reef (Franklin County)

-- Greater Apalachicola Bay (Franklin County)

-- Walton County Beaches (Walton County)

-- Big Bend Ecosystem (Dixie, Levy, Taylor counties)

-- Clearwater Harbor-St. Joseph Sound (Pinellas County)

-- Coastal Pasco (Pasco County)

-- Crystal River Tidal Marshes (Citrus County)

-- St. Marks NWR (Jefferson, Taylor, and Wakulla counties)

Threatened bird species include:

Brown Pelican -The state bird of Louisiana nests on barrier islands and feeds near shore. Their breeding season just began and many pairs are already incubating eggs. Removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list only late last year, Brown Pelicans remain vulnerable to storms, habitat loss and other pressures. Their relatively low reproductive rate means any disruption to their breeding cycle could have serious effects on the population.

Beach-nesting terns and gulls (Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Least Tern, Laughing Gull, Black Skimmer) - These birds nest and roost in groups on barrier islands and beaches. Some species have begun nesting or building pair bonds in preparation for nesting. They feed on fish and other marine life. Roosting and nesting on the sand and plunging into the water to fish, they are extremely vulnerable oil on the surface or washing ashore.

Beach-nesting shorebirds (American Oystercatcher, Wilson's Plover, Snowy Plover)

-These birds nest on the ground on barrier islands and beaches. They feed on small invertebrates along the beach or – in the case of oystercatchers – on oysters. They are at risk if oil comes ashore or affects their food sources.

Reddish Egret – Populations of these large, strictly coastal egrets have dwindled due to habitat loss and disturbance. As specialized residents of coastal environments, they have nowhere else to go if their feeding and nesting grounds are fouled by oil.

Large wading birds (Roseate Spoonbill, Ibises, Herons, Egrets) - Many herons, egrets and other species feed in marshes and along the coast and nest in large colonies called rookeries. They are vulnerable if oil comes ashore in these areas. The central Gulf Coast region hosts continentally and globally significant populations of many of these birds.

Marsh birds – (Mottled Duck, Clapper Rail, Black Rail, Seaside Sparrow, Marsh-Dwelling Songbirds) – Many of these birds are extremely secretive, hindering understanding of their population dynamics. Recovery efforts would be difficult or impossible if oil accumulates in the coastal salt marshes where they live

Ocean-dwelling birds -Birds that spend a significant portion of their lives at sea, including the Magnificent Frigatebird, may be affected by oiled waters. Contact with oil could lead to ingestion or damage to feathers. Oil also threatens their food supplies. These birds are difficult to monitor, and potential impacts are not fully understood.

Migratory shorebirds (plovers, sandpipers and relatives) - These birds' travels span the western hemisphere. But many species are currently en route from wintering grounds in South America to breeding grounds in boreal forests and arctic tundra. They congregate in great numbers on beaches and barrier islands to rest and refuel during their long journeys.

Migratory songbirds (warblers, orioles, buntings, flycatchers, swallows, and others)- Many of our most colorful and familiar summer songbirds fly nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico twice each year as they migrate between their breeding and wintering grounds. The biggest push of spring migrants moves across the gulf during a two-week period from late April to early May. The journey across 500 miles of open water strains their endurance to its limits. They depend on clear skies and healthy habitats on both sides of the gulf in order to survive the journey.

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