image slideshow
logo graphic


OIL and waterbirds

The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico underscores the fact that oil is a major environmental threat to oceanic, coastal, and inland waterbird species.

Oil may be released during platform construction, drilling in wetlands and offshore, shipping and spillage, and chronic, low-level seepage from surface runoff or subsurface sources. Waterbirds are commonly injured by oil spills, chronic oil discharge in bilge water, and hazardous material releases. Birds affected annually can number in the hundreds of thousands in some areas. Injuries can lead directly to mortality or have indirect effects through habitat degradation, reduced reproductive success, or contaminated food supplies. As upper trophic level feeders, waterbirds rely on healthy aquatic environments to provide the food base necessary for reproduction, migration and general maintenance.

General Recommendations

  • Oil effects on waterbirds should be minimized through increased enforcement on shipping activities, safe operational procedures, spill clean up, and when effective, rehabilitation of oiled birds.
  • Every effort to eliminate threats to waterbirds should be made in policies for offshore petroleum leasing and operations. Where threats to waterbirds cannot be eliminated, such threats should be mitigated.
  • The effects of oiling on populations should be better understood.
  • Death and morbidity of waterbirds from oiling should be monitored wherever they occur.
  • The efficacy and approaches to rehabilitation of oiled waterbirds should be improved and implemented where effective.

Helpful Links

Fact Sheet: Effects of Oil on Wildlife and Habitat

Best Practices for Migratory Bird Care During Oil Spill Response

Marine Ornithology - Journal of Seabird Science and Conservation has several articles on oil and seabirds.

Deepwater Horizon Response: Official site of the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Response

Caribbean Regional Activity Center/Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Information and Training Center (REMPEITC)

International Bird Rescue Research Center

U.N. Environment Program's Global Marine Oil Pollution Information Gateway





Last Updated August 11, 2010
U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) is supporting the Waterbird Conservation for the Americas Home Page as part of its contribution to North American Waterbird Conservation Plan (NAWCP). It is being served by the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Information provided in this site does not necessarily have the endorsement of the USGS.