Oil pollution is a highly visible form of environmental contamination that affects avian reproduction in a variety of ways. Plumage oiling causes widespread and locally severe mortality of adult birds. Egg oiling can be a serious hazard for bird embryos but only a few field observationons of this have been reported. Oil ingestion seldom kills birds directly but it causes sublethal change~ in the bodily functions and behavior of adults and nestlings. Studies of the effects of oil on avian reproduction have produced varied and, in ingestion studies, sometimes conflicting results because of inconsistent experimental design and the use of different test species and types of oil. Field experimentation with the sublethal effects of ingested oil on avian reproduction has been limited. Simulation modelling of seabird populations has shown that (l) an occasional decrease in survival of breeding adults will have a greater impact on seabird populations than an occasional decrease in reproductive success, and (2) populations of long-lived seabirds with low reproductive potential have great difficulty recovering from high one-time mortality when experiencing even small sustained annual decreases in either natality or breeding adult survival. The impact of oil-related decreases in survival or reproduction will be more noticeable at the local or colony level than at the regional or species level. Immigration, surplus breeders, and possible compensatory changes in natality and mortality resulting from population reductions usually prevent local population reductions from lasting very long (unless the species is rare or at the edge of its range). A study of west European seabird populations indicates that the natural annual mortality of the region greatly exceeds the annual mortality due to plumage oiling; effects of oil ingestion and egg oiling were not measured but were thought to be less than the mortality from plu~age oiling. Oil-related mortality, even if in addition to expected mortality, would not have a detectable impact on regional populations if environmental conditions were favorable (increased natality, decreased mortality) for the birds.
Additional publication details
Effects of oil on avian reproduction: A review and discussion
Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, Inc.
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Larger Work Type:
Larger Work Subtype:
Other Government Series
Larger Work Title:
The Effects of Oil on Birds: Physiological Research, Clinical Applications and Rehabilitation. A Multi-discipline Symposium