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State of the Birds Report

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Energy Production & Mining

Energy development in Alaska
Photo by Gerrit Vyn

Energy development has significant negative effects on birds in North America including habitat loss, reduction in habitat quality, direct mortality, and disruption. Construction, operation, and associated infrastructure of energy development such as oil and gas fields, wind farms, and geothermal fields reduce and fragment habitat. Oil and gas development in the West is affecting birds such as Greater Sage-Grouse by fragmenting large blocks of habitat. Energy field development alters natural environments in ways that favor invasive plants and animals. Gulls that prey on other birds are subsidized by garbage dumps at drilling facilities in Alaska. Surface water created as a result of coalbed methane extraction allows mosquitoes that transmit diseases such as West Nile virus to breed. Roads used for construction often become paths for invasive plants such as cheatgrass to spread.

Deaths of birds and nesting failures are associated with spills during transportation of petroleum products and oil field practices such as discharging oily waste into uncovered pits. Collisions with wind turbines, offshore oil rigs, and powerlines cause significant mortality. Construction and operations of energy fields can displace birds and disrupt nesting. Prairie-chickens and sage-grouse avoid nesting near tall structures. Studies show that they usually abandon breeding areas near drilling rigs or wind turbines.

Mining can cause extensive habitat disturbance, degradation, and loss. For example, coal mining that blasts mountaintops to reveal coal seams below has removed large areas of eastern forests and buried nearby streamside habitats under tons of debris. This contributes to the decline of birds that breed in interior forests, such as Cerulean Warblers.


More Information

  • Cooper, Brian A. and R. J. Ritchie. 1995. The Altitude of Bird Migration in East-Central Alaska: a radar and visual study. Journal of Field Ornithology 66 (4): 590-608.


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