Shearwater Guessing Game

A Shearwater Guessing Game

By Jennifer Taylor, Animal Care Coordinator

Tell us what you need!  If the animals could only teach us more.

We often ask this of the birds who we take into our care, but they never give an immediate answer.  When “the usual” patients come into Wild Care we feel a sense of security.  A songbird from a cat’s mouth , a flying squirrel fallen from a ceiling vent, an owl hit by a car are all familiar situations where we have protocols in place. We have learned what works well and what doesn’t.

Sick Seabirds are a different story.  It is so difficult. And this summer one of these pelagic species- Shearwaters- were brought to us in volume and in terrible shape.  We received many calls about the dead birds found on beaches around the Cape.  Official research was done with no conclusive results.  But here we were faced with many of these mystical creatures who may not have touched land in over 10 years. We received 21 from August through October.

But, getting back to lessons learned from birds, we were quite successful with a couple Cory’s Shearwaters. They did not come in DOA, nor did they die overnight- as most of the others had. These two responded well to medications and feedings.  We were pleased with their recovery until they just went no further- they were depressed.  What all rehabbers who work with seabirds dread.  They stopped preening, did not want to go into water- were not waterproof and not self-feeding.  When this happens, we must try something different. Put them together-they are birds who flock in masses. That was good! Swim them only in seawater.  Wash their feathers.  They preened much more, and perked up a bit, Yay! Then they stalled again.  We added three mirrors to create a flock, and played audios of Cory’s honking and beeping and bickering in the Azores. That truly got their attention and made one of them regurgitate (which I saw as a good thing)… We took them to the beach in crates to inspire them. This worked well for us a few years ago with a Great Shearwater. But it did not seem to impress these two very much.  Then, Jayne and Amy and I brainstormed and came up with taking them to Skaket Beach at low tide and putting them into a tidal pool to let them “play”.  What did we have to lose?

WOW! Did they have a blast! They were birds again and life was worth living!  At the next field trip to Skaket, the two birds decided it was time to cut loose and fly off before we could do anything about it. Like it was a planned jail break!  After the first one took off, the second one ran like crazy till he got lift and they both flew out to a frenzy of gulls feasting on fish in the deeper water. Who’d a thunk??

Back to the teachings of the birds – BEACH-TIME will now be an important element of our Shearwater protocol.

We live and learn something new every day at Wild Care. What a great job we have!

(Photo below – Shearwaters play at the beach. By Amy Webster.)





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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!