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Reserve pits containing oil or oil-based products (i.e. oil-based drilling fluids) can entrap 
and kill migratory birds and other wildlife. Birds, including hawks, owls, waterfowl, and 
songbirds, are attracted to reserve pits by mistaking them for bodies of water. Reserve 
pits also attract other wildlife such as insects, bats, small mammals, amphibians, and big 
game. Wildlife can fall into oil-covered reserve pits while attempting to drink along the 
pits’ steep sideslopes. The steep, synthetically-lined pit walls make it almost impossible 
for entrapped wildlife to escape. Insects entrapped in the oil can also attract songbirds, 
bats, amphibians, and small mammals. The struggling birds or small mammals in turn 
attract hawks and owls to the oil-covered pit. The sticky nature of oil entraps birds in the 
reserve pits and they die from exposure and exhaustion. Birds that do manage to escape 
die from starvation, exposure or the toxic effects of oil ingested during preening. Birds 
ingesting sublethal doses of oil can experience impaired reproduction. Cold stress can kill 
the animal if oil damages the insulation provided by feathers or fur. Animals not killed in 
the reserve pits can suffer ill effects later from contact with the oil and chemicals in the 
If they absorb or ingest oil in less than acutely lethal amounts they may suffer a 
variety of systemic effects and may become more susceptible to disease and predation. 
During the breeding season, birds can transfer oil from their feet and feathers to their 
eggs. In some cases, a few drops of oil on an egg shell can kill the embryo

Service law enforcement agents and environmental contaminants specialists have 
documented bird mortality in reserve pits in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and 
Wyoming. The presence of small amounts of hydrocarbons, such as diesel, and 
condensate, can create sheens on the reserve pit fluid. The presence of visible sheens on reserve pit fluids is just as deadly to birds that come into contact with them. A 
light sheen will coat the bird’s feathers with a thin film of oil. Although light oiling on a 
bird may not immediately immobilize the bird, it will compromise the feathers’ ability to 
insulate the bird. Furthermore, the affected bird will ingest the oil when it preens its 
feathers and suffer acute or chronic effects. 

Well stimulation chemicals, such as corrosion inhibitors and surfactants, disposed into 
reserve pits, pose additional risk to migratory birds. Surfactants reduce the surface 
tension of water; thus, allowing water to penetrate through feathers and onto skin. This 
compromises the insulation properties of the feathers and subjects the bird to 
hypothermia. Furthermore, loss of water repellency in feathers due to 
reductions in surface tension will cause the bird to become water logged. 
Migratory Birds Threatened
The Ugly
Ineffective separation of oil and water results in wastewater covered by a layer of oil. Oil can weigh birds down and cause them to drown. Oil destroys the ability of the birds' feathers to insulate, resulting in death from heat or cold stress. Two million migratory birds are estimated to die each year in oil and mining wastewater pits in the western United States.