I am hard at work, this summer, on the Field Guide to Beached Birds of the Southeastern United States. Right now, I am immersed in, and confounded by, the seemingly endless and extensive plumages of waterfowl. So, as a break for my feeble intellect, I am turning to a subject about which I know comparatively more: the annual die-offs of Greater Shearwaters.
Right on schedule, reports are coming in now from Florida of both Greater and Cory’s Shearwaters turning up either dead or nearly so. The Brevard County News is reporting over one hundred shearwaters dead or in extremis on Florida’s Space Coast. Most of those that have been taken to wildlife clinics have not survived. The Offshore Wildlife blog reports that the birds began turning up on Florida beaches after a stretch of sustained, strong winds offshore.
This seasonal pattern is predictable, and generally involves mostly juvenile birds who seem to fail to find enough food to sustain them on their long migration north from their hatching places in the southern Atlantic. The magnitude of the die-offs does vary year to year, and early reports from Florida suggest that this may be a big one. Our new SEANET force in North Carolina should brace themselves, as they will be expected to see the carcasses over the next week or so. Here in New England, we generally don’t get shearwaters until July.
Seanetters should maintain their usual walk schedules through these events, but if you see large numbers of dead birds when you aren’t on a designated walk, or on a stretch of beach that isn’t your normal turf, please send me an email (and photos are, of course, always welcome) so we can try to get a better picture of what’s going on out there.
To all our readers, Happy Summer Solstice, and with it, Happy Shearwater Season!