Happy New Year, Seanetters!

5 01 2009

Two thousand nine has been ushered in on the wings of a dead white-winged scoter, it appears. Ray Bosse (LC_03)  found the first reported beached bird of the year in Westport, MA.

Female White-Winged Scoter carcass

Female White-Winged Scoter carcass

The bird is a female, and on the ventral (belly) surface, a relatively large hole is evident penetrating into the body cavity. While there is no way to know for sure exactly what caused the trauma, the damage appears characteristic of postmortem scavenging by gulls. For such a large wound, there is relatively little blood at the site. This suggests that the injury was sustained after the bird was dead.

In attempting to diagnose wounds in beached birds, it is worth considering another very common trauma that befalls sea ducks: gunshot. The difference in postmortem findings between the two types of trauma is considerable.

White-Winged Scoter with large wound in the belly/flank

White-Winged Scoter with large wound in the belly/flank

Because the size of the shot used to hunt sea ducks is quite small, it generally takes numerous shot pellets striking the bird and penetrating into the body cavity to result in death. If a bird is struck by only one or two pellets, it may well survive the injury.  Additionally,  if the bird was a great distance away from the hunter, the pellets may not have sufficient energy to penetrate the body cavity and may simply lodge under the skin. At the time of necropsy, it is not uncommon to find a few shot pellets from prior hunting seasons within the body cavity or just under the skin that seem not to have caused any problem to the bird. Birds dead of gunshot wounds that are found beached may often appear bloodied, but because of the tiny size of the pellets, there may be no obvious source of the bleeding or external wounds.

We here at SEANET hope the New Year finds you all well, and at least better off than this scoter. We know that you are resolved to rededicate yourselves to beach walking, and make this the year you turn in at least one report every single month, EVEN IF you DON’T see any dead birds! Here’s to a great 2009 and thank you all for your continued good work!

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