Fracking is causing the decline of some songbirds, but others are benefitting

An image to illustrate songbirds, of which different species are affected by fracking in different ways
© iStock/dlewis33

A new paper shows that some songbirds actually benefit from fracking infrastructure while other species are decreasing in population.

The research, published by Oxford University Press, suggests that forest disturbances from fracking infrastructure could actually create more habitats for generalist or highly adaptable species, but is causing the population of songbirds which rely on interior forests to decrease.

Songbirds as indicators of the ecosystem

Author Laura S. Farwell, Ph.D, commented:  “We hope to find a way to balance our energy needs with maintaining healthy forest ecosystems, which we also depend on for clean air, clean water, carbon storage, and countless other ecological services. Like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, these birds are early indicators of ecosystem degradation. We hope our research will help inform planning decisions about where to avoid or minimize gas development in order to protect valuable forest resources, both for humans and for other species.”

The effect of fracking on different species of songbirds

The researchers found that the footprint of shale gas increased tenfold over the ten year period. Forest interior songbirds decreased in numbers near gas development, at both drilling sites and road and pipeline corridors. For example the ovenbird population declined by 35 percent, and Cerulean Warblers by 34 percent.

Shale gas expansion also causes an increase in human access and activity, such as traffic, light and noise pollution, which poses problems for songbirds in attracting mates due to issues such as chronic noise from pipeline compressors.

Populations such as the Indigo Bunting, on the other hand, saw population increases and concentrated along new pipelines and access roads. Another example of a species of songbirds that saw an increased population in this study is the Brown-headed Cowbird. It is a nest parasite which manipulates other birds into raising its young, at the detriment of other birds.

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