The American Birding Association (ABA) is stumbling through one of its cyclical deconstructions. Leaders are being ousted, budgets are being thrashed, and blame is being heaped. You would think that people who watch (rather than kill or maim) birds would be placid, investing their emotional selves in an adoration of nature. Think again. This recreation is constructed around honor (and its kin, ego), and around trust in one’s word. Hunters and anglers drag their game to the scale. Birders ask to be believed. In birding, most of what you see are for others the ones that got away.
NFWF, DU, and others will develop freshwater wetlands in the interior to protect ducks, geese, and migratory freshwater shorebirds from the impacts of the gusher. Fantastic, I am all for it. Except my hit list birds would not be expected outside the “spill area.” I support any effort to enhance wetlands (particularly in the agricultural interior), but the benefit from this project to many of the birds most impacted by the gusher will be negligible.
The birds most at risk at those that are either salinity tolerant or saline obligates. The more restricted the bird is to the tidal zone, the more restricted it is to the beach, the more the bird is at risk. Yes, a hurricane would change the threat considerably, particularly if the storm surge pushed oil into the interior. But without such a storm (and assuming the BP finally caps the damn thing), the tidal zone (along with the open waters of the Gulf) is where we would expect the greatest impact and threat.
I thought that you would never ask.
Look at the list of imperiled birds again. Most share a habitat type. When the oil has oozed its last, habitat will still be these birds most pressing need. I agree with the sentiment behind Paul Kemp’s (National Audubon Society) comment that “here, we have a patient that’s dying of cancer, you know, and now they have a sunburn, too,” but Paul, choose your words (and analogies) more carefully next time. The grotesque wetland losses in Louisiana began before the gusher. The dead zone in the Gulf existed before the gusher. The 27000 abandoned wells in the Gulf existed before the gusher. The incessant nipping away at coastal beaches existed before the gusher. Only this time, at least for a moment, a catastrophic event has shined the light into America’s backyard.
Just which birds are actually threatened by the BP fiasco? I will offer my best guesses, and then ask you to send your thoughts in as well. I will try to keep the list updated.
Dr. Keith Arnold is an old friend, once ornithologist at Texas A&M and now comfortably retired. For decades Keith functioned as the bird-sighting gestapo in Texas. He would pass judgement on every lame-brained bird sighting or CBC report that crossed his desk. He had a favorite term for the most outlandish of these; “unbelievable if true.”
Since the Gulf spill I have received countless solicitations from nonprofits wanting my money to help Gulf birds. Many of these spiels have been “unbelievable if true.” Today I received the latest from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). I thought buying organic flowers to help Gulf birds could not be topped, but the NWF came through in the clutch.