The Oiled Bird Monitoring Project

Update - March 2011
Feature article in Birding magazine about our efforts related to oiled bird monitoring.

Brown Pelican The Deepwater Horizon was a BP operated ultra-deepwater oil-drilling rig that caught fire on 20-April-2010. Two days later a second explosion occurred and the Deepwater Horizon sank. Tragically, eleven workers are presumed dead. The oil released into the Gulf of Mexico from the broken well-head is considered to be one of the worst environmental catastrophes in history. Recognizing the potential impact of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy on our coastal bird communities, the Baton Rouge Audubon Society collaborated with multiple private and public organizations to create "A Citizen Scientist's Protocol for Monitoring Oiled Birds in Louisiana."

Most other survey-methodologies focus on birds without differentiating between those who show either visual or behavioral effects of oil contamination. During oil spills, surveyors (and the media) often focus on oiled, immobile or dead wildlife often addressing those animals which are in the most immediate danger. The Louisiana Citizen Scientist protocol is designed to document individual birds with even small patches of oil on their plumage, or birds exhibiting unusual behavior because even a small amount of oil on an apparently healthy bird can be preened and ingested, potentially causing abnormal behavior or death.

The Louisiana Citizen Scientist protocol has been adopted by National Audubon as the official monitoring protocol throughout the Gulf Coast region. The data are easy to collect and can yield powerful results. For example, surveys are similar to typical birding trips except we ask volunteers to record time spent surveying, number of individuals of each species observed, document odd behavior and amount of oil observed. The collected data is used to estimate abundance of birds, frequency of oiled-birds, and species specific patterns of oil contamination across the Gulf Coast. Next, we plan on associating our citizen science monitoring data with bird mortality estimates in order to calculate number of total casualties throughout the impacted region. In order to reach our lofty goals, Baton Rouge Audubon and collaborators are working diligently to build capacity.

Western Sandpiper Working with National Audubon and other local Audubon affiliates, we plan on continuing our surveys into the foreseeable future in order to determine the long term effects of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy on our coastal bird community.

As concerned citizens we are frustrated with our inability to stop the oil spill from damaging the Gulf Coast's fragile ecosystems. Although our collective ability to avert damage is limited, our collective ability to document damage is critical. As the crisis unfolds, we hope to tell the birds' story through analysis and by sharing our data with interested parties for upcoming litigation and mitigation. If you have not done so already, please consider joining us in this unique effort to monitor our bird communities' response to the Deepwater Horizon spill.

For more information about volunteer opportunities please contact Erik Johnson and Jared Wolfe at, you can download the volunteer package by selecting the following link:

A Citizen Scientist's Protocol for Monitoring Oiled Birds in Louisiana (PDF)