M.Sc. Thesis of Ffion Cassidy
(to be completed in 2014)
The oil sands region in northern Alberta is among the largest sources of bitumen in the world. Currently, the extraction process produces process-affected water containing bitumen, which is deposited nearby into large bodies of water known as tailings ponds. Because the oil sands are located directly under a major flyway for migratory waterfowl, birds needing to rest and refuel are at risk of landing on tailings ponds and contacting bitumen. Two major landing events took place in April, 2008 and October, 2010, and resulted in the deaths several hundred birds.
The need for effective avian deterrents on tailings ponds has long been recognised and while operators do have deterrent programmes in place, their effectiveness has not been well investigated experimentally. Deterrent work is led by Ffion Cassidy with the purpose of assessing the efficacy of commercially available avian deterrents, and investigating new ideas for ecologically relevant deterrent devices and practices.
Through knowledge of the sensory and behavioural ecology of affected species, I endeavour to capitalise on stimuli to which birds have evolved or learned to respond, such as certain wavelengths of light, visual characteristics of predators, or conspecific alarm calls. Applying the principles of behaviour theory may also help to minimise habituation, which is a major limiting factor in the effectiveness of current practices.
My field work takes place in and around the Edmonton area, on bodies of water that are known to be attractive to waterfowl. Methods which achieve promising results under these conditions will be modified for further trials and possible implementation on tailings ponds. My goal is to make recommendations for future deterrent type, placement, and activity to minimise bird contact with the bitumen found in oil sands tailings ponds.
My research is supervised by Dr. Colleen Cassady St. Clair at the University of Alberta and is part of the Research in Avian Protection Project (RAPP).