As many as 50 birds have died after landing in tailings areas at the Kearl oilsands site near Fort McMurray, Imperial Oil said Tuesday.
Over several days since April 26, more than 100 birds have landed in tailings areas, company spokesperson Jon Harding said in an email to CBC News.
The birds were primarily grebes and shorebird and most landed in open water areas.
“We very much regret this situation and are making every effort to protect the birds and learn from these increased landings,” Harding said.
About 60 oiled birds have been collected, including the 50 that died, Harding said.
“Partially oiled birds were taken to a rehabilitation centre in Edmonton, where they will be cleaned and assessed, and the successful cases will be released in the coming days,” Harding said.
WildNorth, a wildlife rehabilitation and rescue group in Edmonton, confirmed it is taking care of the birds.
Harding said the birds landed in a space with deterrent systems in place, such as radar detection, noise cannons, eye-safe lasers, scarecrows and long-range acoustic devices.
“The assumption is that the exhausted birds landed at the Kearl site in spite of the deterrents because most of the natural water bodies in the area are still mostly frozen, due to the extended winter and abrupt migration,” Harding said.
“The landings were most likely influenced by near freezing precipitation, which historically has resulted in migrating birds landing on such areas due to exhaustion.”
Harding said Imperial is continuing to monitor the situation is “taking all prudent steps to safely encourage the birds to avoid and move off landing areas.”
Imperial has notified industry regulators about what happened, Harding said.