Fracking Threatens Songbird Nesting and Reproductive Success

It’s not like you really needed yet another reason to despise fracking, right? Nevertheless, now you’ve got one. Fracking is keeping songbirds from being able to nest and reproduce properly, according to a new study.

Fracking is the worrisome process by which companies search for oil and shale gas. It involves high pressure injection of liquid, sand or chemicals into subterranean rocks, wellbores and the like to force open existing fissures. Frackers then extract oil or shale gas from within those fissures. The term “fracking” refers to how rock is fractured apart by the exerted pressure.

Many public health advocates already object to fracking because it appears, in certain cases, to cause increased seismic activity –  typically where there is a dormant or previously undiscovered fault in the earth. And now we know that fracking does far more than cause earthquakes.

The Louisiana waterthrush is a songbird that serves as a bioindicator species for headwater streams. In other words, researchers can get early warning signs of problems within these freshwater ecosystems by understanding impacts to the waterthrush.

Researchers, who published their findings the journal “The Condor: Ornithological Applications,” mapped waterthrush territory and monitored nests along 14 northwestern West Virginia streams from 2009 to 2011, and again between 2013 and 2015.

The wildlife scientists employed satellite imagery and aerial photographs, as well as extensive “ground truthing,” or direct observation instead of reliance on a model or simulation. The team used this information to group nesting disturbances based on whether they were related to fracking.

It turns out that waterthrush nesting is significantly — and negatively — affected near fracking locations. As fracking for shale gas expanded into an area, that area’s nest survival and productivity and riparian habitat quality decidedly declined.

Birds needed to expand their typical territory size just to be able to locate enough resources to sustain themselves and their young. And larger territories mean that fewer birds can find what they need to survive.

Louisiana Waterthrush

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Don Faulkner

The research team concluded:

Our study is one of the first to demonstrate that shale gas development can affect the reproductive success and productivity of a wildlife population, likely through the presence of shale gas infrastructure and by indirect negative effects on stream health and aquatic prey. Increasing overall aquatic ecosystem health will necessitate measures to protect water quality from upstream sediment load and pollutant sources, which will require watershed-scale habitat conservation efforts.

And if fracking is disruptive enough that only “watershed-level” efforts would help ameliorate the damage, that’s not good.

Why are we still so focused on oil and gas production when we have so much opportunity to exploit sun and wind? We need to stop clutching at the fossil fuel energy sources of the past. It’s well past time to embrace clean and renewable energy sources.

The waterthrush has told us that it’s time to change course. We must listen, before we can’t hear the songbirds sing anymore.

Photo Credit: Dominic Sherony/Flickr


Angela G
Angela G4 months ago

fracking threatens all of us

Paulo R
Paulo R4 months ago


Paulo R
Paulo R4 months ago


Shirley Plowman
Shirley Plowman4 months ago

To me, fracking is CRIMINAL!!!! No wildlife should be sacrificed for it.

Mia G
Mia G4 months ago

thanks for sharing

Dr. Jan H
Dr. Jan Hill4 months ago


Carole R
Carole R4 months ago

What a shame.

Mark D
Mark Donner4 months ago

JinnySITEISSUES L "I simply cannot imagine an earth that consists of humans only" There is no such thing as an earth with humans only. The entire bloated population of 7.5 billion humans would be dead without the other life forms maintaining a biosphere