Last month Echo reported that Great Lakes migratory birds are threatened by the Gulf oil spill.
Regional bird expert Francie Cuthbert, a University of Minnesota professor, was busy with fieldwork when we tried to reach her then. But she got back with us for this update:
Female Great Lakes piping plovers will head south for the winter ahead of the males in a couple weeks. Since nothing is cleaned up, they will almost certainly be affected by the spill, Cuthbert says.
She expects only a small percentage of plovers that come in contact with the oil to survive. Larger birds and ducks are big enough to escape oiled areas, but plovers are too small to get away, she says.
Another concern is that if the oil moves up the Atlantic Coast, a new group of birds could be affected.
“That’s a huge issue,” she says.
Great Lakes herring gulls and blue herons don’t winter as far south as the Gulf region, she says. But common terns and caspian terns pass through the region on their way to the Great Lakes and may even winter there.
Several national conservation groups are asking people in the Gulf region to build backyard habitats for birds affected by the spill.
The National Wildlife Federation recently published a guide to creating a habitat.
The Nature Conservancy also published ways to help migratory birds.
Backyard habitats could help larger birds affected by the spill, Cuthbert says. But small birds like plovers need wide beaches and barrier islands to thrive.
Agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers may be able to create those kinds of habitats in time, she says. Unfortunately, it’s not something people can readily do in their backyards.