Seas & Shores

Huntington Beach Oil Spill Fouls Beaches Home to Federally Threatened Snowy Plovers

Petroleum-smeared shorebirds face slow death after ingesting contaminants


(Huntington Beach, Calif.—October 6, 2021) Petroleum from the weekend’s massive oil spill off Orange County continues to endanger shorebirds as it washes up on beaches, including at wintering grounds for the federally threatened Western Snowy Plover.

“Tom Ryan, a biologist with Los Angeles Audubon, estimates that around 200 Western Snowy Plovers winter along the Orange County coast,” said Andrea Jones, director of bird conservation for Audubon California. “While that may not sound like much, it represents up to 10 percent of the entire population for these birds along the U.S. Pacific Coast. And we’re already seeing many examples of oil-smeared plovers and other migratory shorebirds that have come from the North to spend the winter on this stretch of coast.

While shorebirds may not become as heavily oiled as diving birds like Brown Pelicans or Pacific Loons, their feet and bellies get coated with oil while they run along the sand and search for insects in contaminated seaweed that washes ashore.  They’ll ingest the petroleum smearing their feathers as they preen themselves. That can result in a slow, agonizing death for these birds over a period of days or weeks or make them more susceptible to predation. We’re expecting more sick birds and casualties in the coming days. 

These shorebirds will be hard to catch, even oiled, and if anyone notices a shorebird, gull, or other waterbird on the beach that is coated, it is extremely important not to approach these birds and cause further stress.  Rather, take a photo, note the exact location, and please call 1-877-UCD-OWCN (823-6926) and report immediately. Do not pick up oiled wildlife.

This incident – and the extremely disturbing details that are emerging about how and when the pipeline rupture occurred, who may have known about it, and how long it took them to act – should underscore for everyone that America’s reliance on fossil fuels should come to an end. Audubon’s research shows that a warming climate threatens two-thirds of our bird species with extinction if we don’t act to combat climate change. That starts with eliminating offshore oil drilling, which threatens the ecosystems and beauty of California’s incomparable coastline, along with the health of millions of Californians.”

Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Orange County on Sunday. The county board of supervisors also declared a local emergency last night. Reports indicate that more than 126,000 gallons of crude oil gushed into the ocean for 12 hours before the pipeline’s owner, Texas-based Amplify Energy, notified authorities.


Jason Howe,; 415-595-9245

About Audubon
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.

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