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It is well known that huge oil spills that come from sources such as tanker leaks and offshore drilling have a destructive impact on wildlife and the environment. However, did you know that even tiny drops of oil can also be deadly to birds? Illegally dumped oil, leakage from a damaged jet ski or motor boat or run-off from road pollution which can effect birds often go unreported yet their impact on wildlife can be devastating.

Bird Covered In Oil

The most common species of birds to be effected by oil spills are those that live near the coast and other bodies of water such as ducks, pelicans, gulls, terns and auks. However, if the oil reaches the shore then shorebirds such as avocets, plovers, sandpipers and oystercatchers as well as migratory birds who use the shore for stopovers are likely to be harmed too. Birds that feed from the polluted areas are also in danger – in fact, unlimited bird species could be at risk from oil pollution.

Oil affects birds in a number of ways. The most obvious sign is by coating their plumage. Feathers provide excellent waterproofing and insulation as long as they are properly aligned and as the oil causes the feathers to become matted birds can lose body heat exposing them to weather conditions that could prove fatal. Birds that are covered in oil will also lose their natural buoyancy feathers provide and can sink and drown in polluted water.

In order to try and remove the oil from their feathers birds will begin to preen themselves, thereby ingesting toxic chemicals which will cause internal organ damage and eventually death. Even if they do not die from oil toxicity the excessive preening uses an awful amount of energy and many oiled birds will succumb to exhaustion.

An area that has been effected by a large oil spill will become uninhabitable for many bird species as their sources of food such as fish are killed off. Once oil has entered the ecosystem and food chain over time small amounts can gradually build to deadly concentrations. If birds are nesting at the time of the spill oil covered eggs will suffocate the unhatched chicks and breeding females will lay eggs with thinner shells which can easily break.

It can take years to clean areas affected by oil spills and if you are concerned by the impact on birds and wildlife there are a number of things you can do to help:

Volunteer for the clean-up effort and learn how to remove oil from birds and their habitats.

Donate to a conservation charity such as the RSPB who provide essential support to clean-up and recovery operations.

Avoid contributing to oil pollution by checking boats and jet-skis for damage and avoiding illegal dumping.

Report any birds that you suspect are contaminated with oil to your local environmental health department.

Work to reduce your carbon footprint as a bird watcher to use fewer oil resources.

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