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Natural causes reason for dying birds

Posted: Tuesday, Nov 9th, 2010

Concerned Florence residents attempt rescues, but experts say do not disturb.

Florence residents who regularly stroll along Heceta Beach reported a disturbing sight last week as they encountered more than 100 seabirds hunkered in the sand, obviously in distress, unable to move out of the surf.

“They were soaked and shivering,” said Liz Cosko who lives nearby. “They couldn’t fly and the water kept pummeling them.”

Cosko contacted rescue agencies and the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team out of the University of Washington (COASST), wondering if they had information about the birds, or if they could be saved, but was informed that when birds have reached such a state, “there isn’t a whole lot that can be done to help them,” said Cosko.

The birds, identified as northern fulmars, are pelagic, meaning they are typically out to sea and not often seen on the beach, explained Project Leader Roy Lowe of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Lowe said the birds breed in Alaska and move south. This recent incident involving northern fulmars lasted one to two days.

“We were not seeing other seabirds in large numbers washing up,” said Lowe, who attributed the appearance of the birds to ocean storms.

“We’ve had some really large swells and high winds. It makes it tough for them to forage. They can tire,” said Lowe. “If they are non-healthy for any reason, (a severe storm) can take them over the edge.”

“This is the right time of year for them to wash ashore,” said Jane Dolliver, program coordinator for COASST. “They are not dying because of some disease; they are not dying due to a dead zone or toxicity; they are dying of emaciation. They were getting thrown in waves.”

The loss of the northern fulmars spotted on the beach should not be cause for concern in terms of the overall population, said Dolliver. Northern fulmars, unlike some seabird species, enjoy a healthy population.

“These guys are numbered in the millions,” said Dolliver. “Worldwide there are 15 to 30 million.”

For the complete article see the 11-10-2010 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-10-2010 paper.

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