Nature Notes: Lost souls

MARSHA SPARKS photo

From a wildlife perspective, this has been a hard and unusual winter so far. With pelicans and some of the other seabirds arriving here much later in the summer than usual, and then staying much later into the winter season than they normally do, the stage has been set for a real disaster for young fledgling birds. Common murres, those great looking little penguin-style birds arriving on the beaches in the summer, also had another year of unusually high numbers of strandings and the same, too, with cormorants and northern fulmars.

The difference this year is that many of the stranded birds brought into the wildlife center are really just babies - first-year birds who are smaller, much thinner and haven't perfected the fishing skills needed to get strong and be able to migrate south with their family. They end up getting weaker and weaker as the season gets colder, and they get left behind by their flocks heading south. These young birds then end up having to fend for themselves.

The first-year pelicans seem to take more time than just a summer and fall to learn all they need to know about how to be a pelican, and if they get left behind, the young birds' chances of survival with precious little to eat and cold weather setting in is, well, less than terrific.

Luckily for the pelicans, murres, cormorants, red phalaropes, turnstones and young gulls, there are lots of people here keeping a sharp eye out on the beaches for injured or stranded birds. With quick rescue, a warm and safe place to rest and refuel, some antibiotics and just a recharge, these animals have a much better chance of survival.

Depending on the species and how many critters we finally end up receiving, we will make special arrangements to get the birds south to a warmer climate where they can rejoin other birds of the same species. It takes a tremendous amount of time, energy and sheer effort, not to mention the cost, to get these young first-year birds secured and back home safely.

The logistics of getting a murre or a pelican back with other birds after the flocks have left these cold winter beaches is pretty tough but we manage.

So in your travels, if you see what appears to be a timid and not very aggressive bird hunkered down against the wind and weather out on the beach (or anywhere) and it doesn't want to fly away as you approach, you probably have stumbled upon one of these young "lost souls."

Give us a call here at the wildlife center. We'll be glad to take these little cuties in and get them healthy and fattened up and ready for another season here on the coast!

Craig Sparks is the director of NAWA, and is a big fan of pelicans. Found injured wildlife? Questions? Call NAWA at 665-3595 or e-mail to sparks@pacifier.com.

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