“Parrots of the Sea” Blown Off Course
By Eric Williams
EASTHAM — The storm winds huffed and puffed and down came a puffin. And other feathered friends.
“We got totally slammed with seabirds,” said Stephanie Ellis, executive director of Wild Care Cape Cod in Eastham. “People were calling off the hook. We got animals in from all over the Cape.”
The weekend blizzard brought a flurry of seabirds to the facility, including three razorbills, two Atlantic puffins and a northern gannet.
Generally speaking, storm-downed seabirds are dehydrated, underweight and fatigued. Some suffer from intestinal parasites. Some suffer road rash from landing on a street that looked like a body of water from above.
“They aren’t really designed to fly in 70-knot winds with blinding snow,” said Cape and Islands birding expert E. Vernon Laux, resident naturalist at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation on Nantucket. “It’s sort of like flying in a washing machine.”
With storms like the weekend blizzard, “there’s going to be some bird mortality,” said Laux, who pens a birding column for the Cape Cod Times. “That’s the way it’s been going on for eons. Most of them are tough and can get through these conditions but occasionally you get a super storm and some don’t survive.”
Approximately 50 puffins were sighted in the vicinity of Skaket Beach on Sunday, perhaps a record for Cape Cod, and certainly an unusual number of the colorfully beaked birds some call “parrots of the sea,” Laux said.
If storm-tossed seabirds aren’t suffering from major injuries, they can be fed, watered, warmed and released within a relatively short amount of time — approximately three days to a week, said Alexandra Mueller, Wild Care wildlife rehabilitator.
The Eastham center is also caring for a peregrine falcon found injured over the weekend. And a red-throated loon was transferred to Wild Care from a Barnstable wildlife center that remained without power Monday.
Staff writer Jason Kolnos contributed to this report.
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Wild Care has a state-of-the-art seabird therapy pool, which allows seabirds and waterfowl to exercise on running water. This will help our bird friends recover more quickly so they can get back to their watery habitats!