While most beached birds reported by Seanetters are dead, we occasionally receive reports of sick or injured live birds, and it can be difficult to determine which of these qualify as beached. Here, I attempt to offer you some basic guidelines, using some recent examples.
The first is a Brant found by Ron and Jean Bourque who walk on Long Island. Ron reported a live Brant in a recent walk that had a fishing lure apparently embedded in its side. Ron included a photo, and noted that he had seen the same bird three months prior and photographed it then too. The photo from this month shows that, while weathered, the lure does indeed appear to be the same one seen lodged in the unfortunate Brant in June. For the purposes of the database, we have considered this bird “beached.” The bird appears to be surviving reasonably well despite its unpleasant adornment, and some might argue that it is not, therefore, beached. But since the injury is so distinctive, we can be somewhat certain that the bird will not be reported at a later date as a newly injured specimen. By contrast, the Brant standing behind the lure-bird with an injured wing in the second photo does not have a distinctive enough appearance to be included in the database as beached. After all, it would be impossible for Ron and Jean to recognize that particular bird in the future, and it could therefore be re-reported and inflate our statistics on injured specimens. Still, neither of these birds appears “beached” in the classic sense. They both seem able, at least to this point, to compensate for their injuries. It remains to be seen what happens to them when harsher weather sets in in the coming months.
Another instance of the live-beached bird conundrum arose this month up in Maine where Helen Rasmussen walks in Portland. Helen has found two injured Semi-Palmated Sandpipers in the past few weeks. The first was debilitated enough to be captured and transported to the Center for Wildlife in York, Maine where it had to be euthanized due to irreparable shoulder damage. This bird was clearly “beached” for our purposes; it was bad off enough to be caught, and since it was removed from the beach, it will not be re-counted on subsequent walks.
The second sandpiper Helen reported, however, appeared to be getting around reasonably well despite lacking most of its left foot. From Helen’s photo, the injury seems to be well healed, and the bird, though slipping a bit on the rocks, seemed to be compensating well. We elected not to consider this bird beached, and indeed, our volunteers report many partial or complete amputees of various species that seem to be making a successful living out there (especially gulls).
The last category of live, beached birds is more clear-cut: species that don’t have any business being on a beach in the first place. Species like loons, shearwaters and other tubenoses, and alcids (murres, dovekie, etc) do not belong on land outside the breeding season, so if you find such a species alive on your beach, you should feel confident reporting that bird as beached.
Of course, every case is unique, and, as always, we encourage you to contact us if you have a question about what qualifies as a beached bird. Operators are standing by.