Mississipi's Bird's foot delta seen from space
Dec 2022

Satellite view of Mississipi Delta, Louisiana

How a river turns into a bird's foot

Different seasons, different looks from above for the Mississipi delta in Louisiana, USA. Vegetation, sun position help paint contrasted pictures of the Bird’s Foot Delta. It is a unique and distinctive feature at the mouth of the Mississippi River, one of several deltaic forms created as the river deposits sediment and flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

From the river rose the Bird’s Foot Delta

The area’s name comes from its shape, which resembles a bird’s foot with multiple distributaries that spread out like toes. The main branches that make up the “toes” of the bird’s foot include the South Pass, Pass-a-Loutre, and Southwest Pass.

The river transports a vast amount of sediment from its upstream reaches, which gets deposited at the delta. This sediment accumulation has led to the formation of extensive marshes, wetlands, and deltaic landforms.

The Bird’s Foot Delta is an ecologically important region with diverse wetland ecosystems. These areas provide critical habitat for various species of birds, fish, and other wildlife. It is particularly vital for migratory birds traveling along the Mississippi Flyway.

Delta under threat

Like many deltas worldwide, Bird’s foot is vulnerable to subsidence and erosion. Human activities such as the channelization of the river, levees, and the extraction of natural resources have disrupted the natural processes that sustain deltaic landforms. As a result, the Bird’s Foot Delta is experiencing land loss and habitat degradation.

Efforts to manage and restore the delta’s ecosystems and mitigate land loss include diversion projects, levee breaching, and the use of dredged sediment to rebuild land. These actions aim to simulate natural processes and protect the area’s ecological and economic value.

Nimbo Earth Online with Copernicus Sentinel data (2022)