Counting the Avian Victims of the BP Spill

Photo by NWFblogs, <a href="">via Flickr</a>.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Wednesday that it will be posting regular updates on the species of birds that have died as a result of the Gulf oil spill. Conservation groups have sought this information in the months since the spill, but previous reports from federal government biologists have only tallied the total number of birds—they haven’t provided a species-by-species break down.

This information is crucial to determining the true extent of the ecological damage caused by the spill, argue groups like the National Wildlife Federation, which filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the detailed reports last month. There are some birds that conservationists are more worried about in the region—birds like the brown pelican, which was just taken off the endangered species list last year, and the piping plover, which is currently on the list.

The first detailed tally shows that 568 brown pelicans have been collected, 376 of them dead. The only bird with a higher tally is the laughing gull, of which 1,885 have been brought in, 1,591 of them dead. In a bit of good news, only one piping plover has been found dead so far, according to yesterday’s tally.

Yesterday’s release only includes the species count for 4,676 birds, which is less than the total brought in so far. The last report from the Deepwater Horizon Response stated that 8,009 birds had been collected so far. Georgia Parham, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said there is some delay in releasing the more detailed reports, as it takes time to verify the species. The agency expects to release new updates on the confirmed species count every Wednesday, said Parham.

The species figures are crucial to the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, which the government is conducting now to determine how much the spill damaged the gulf—and how much BP will have pay. “Ensuring accurate, scientifically valid information that describes bird impacts from this incident will be an important part of the government’s overall Natural Resource Damage Assessment,” the agency said on Wednesday.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend