How NOT to Handle a Gannet!
By Amy Sanders, Wild Care Volunteer
I’m a relatively new volunteer at Wild Care, having been there about 2 years. I do a bit of everything, including field rescues for the Outer Cape. During a leisurely lunch with Stephanie Ellis and SaraJane Doberstein, my less gracious rescue experiences came up in conversation. I decided to entertain them with a what-to-definitely-NOT-do-during-a-rescue story, one from very long ago when I was seriously lacking in wildlife smarts. There seemed to be consensus that this might be a fun read for Duck Tales, so here you go: 😉
I was in my 20s when this silliness happened. I know for sure only that Wild Care was still located in Brewster, and was only peripherally on my radar. I was walking with my dad at Ballston Beach in Truro when we came across a Northern Gannet in some level of distress. As a teenager, my dad worked at a Massachusetts Fish and Game facility in Sandwich. We were accustomed to wildlife (and other) adventures together, and besides, neither of us had a cell phone at that time – so we had no way to call someone for assistance without leaving the bird unattended (and neither of us knew how to reach Wild Care, though we did know where it was). So we decided this was something we could do—no problem. I mean, how hard could it be? (“How hard could it be?” is a thought that often leads to unpleasant outcomes!).
Well VERY hard, I now know. A Northern Gannet is a very large bird—it can have a wingspan of almost 6 feet. It has a very long pointed bill that can be used as a formidable weapon. But we were not wise enough then to take those things into account.
So, together we managed to get the bird. We had no box, but we did cover its eyes with a t-shirt, hoping that would calm it (I think maybe that’s horses—not North Atlantic gannets). I tucked this bird under my arm, supported it well, and walked back to the car. It seemed calm enough. Once we reached the car, I placed the bird in the way back (a Toyota Corolla hatchback), Dad would drive and I climbed into the back seat to control the bird. We headed off for a 40-minute drive to Brewster.
So you ask, what in the world made us think a gannet would sit quietly in the way back of a car for 40 minutes? I haven’t a clue, but oh were we ever wrong!
Before we even got to Rt. 6, this bird started to come to life in panic. We are now driving along with a 3-foot-tall bird with a 6-foot wing span flapping around in the back of the car. It was 40 minutes of sheer chaos—flailing wings, darting spear bill, copious bugs (more on that at the end), and high velocity bird poo. My sole job was to keep the bird out of the front seat, regardless of the consequences to myself, so we wouldn’t have an accident. It was the only time in my life that I wished for a police officer to pull me over in Eastham. Any ticket would have been worth it to get help. Way back then, there just wasn’t any place one could (that we knew of) go, so we bucked up and decided we had to get to Wild Care.
Upon our arrival, we both vacated the car and went meekly inside to explain to an astonished group of very nice folks the predicament we were in, and let them take over. They expertly extracted the bird from the car, and we left a sizable donation for our foolishness. Returning to the car, we though seriously of abandoning it.
It was coated with thousands of feather fleas (won’t bite people but will crawl all over you), and the most intensely horrendous smelling poo in the back. Alas, Wild Care folks helped us dust for the feather fleas, and we then had the car professionally cleaned, since we couldn’t handle the stench. But that car still had a faint odor from time to time when it was damp, until I sold it a year or so later.
A note: After hearing this story, Stephanie exclaims, “We’d love your photos of that!” To which I replied, “Do you seriously think I had any ability to photograph any part of that fiasco??” We laughingly agreed that any photo that accompanies this in Duck Tales, will have to be of a calmer gannet from another time and place.
Moral of the story? Leave gannets to the Wild Care folks to capture and transport! I am now trained (patiently, by Jen Taylor) to handle gannets and have safely (though not always gracefully), captured and transported quite a few of them to Wild Care (in containers, with air holes, and duct tape holding them closed). I’ve even been fortunate enough to release a couple, which is always a treat to watch! Perhaps if you come across a gannet and call Wild Care, it will even be me who appears to help. But, I promise to do a better job.
Picture – credit of the internet.
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