Open pit bitumen extraction is capable of causing mass mortality events of resident and migratory birds. We investigated annual avian mortality in the tailings ponds of the Athabasca tar sands region, in northeastern Alberta, Canada. We analyzed three types of data: government-industry reported mortalities; empirical studies of bird deaths at tailings ponds; and rates of landing, oiling, and mortality to quantify annual bird mortality due to exposure to tailings ponds. Ad hoc self-reported data from industry indicate an annual mortality due to tailings pond exposure in northeastern Alberta of 65 birds. The self-reported data were internally inconsistent and appeared to underestimate actual mortality. Scientific data indicate an annual mortality in the range of 458 to 5,029 birds, which represents an unknown fraction of true mortality. Government-overseen monitoring within a statistically valid design, standardized across all facilities, is needed. Systematic monitoring and accurate, timely reporting would provide data useful to all concerned with bird conservation and management in the tar sands region.
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