In the midst of dead alcids

22 02 2013

We are currently observing a couple of different mortality events on both SEANET beaches, and civilian beaches here on the East Coast. These events have been puzzling in the way they have coincided. The first, a die-off of Dovekies, was relatively narrow in its geographic range. Dr. Bethany Rottner, of the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Hampton Bays, NY wrote to me asking if we’d seen a lot of dead Dovekies on SEANET beaches starting in December. We had not seen anything particularly unusual, and have not since. But their rehab was inundated with more than fifteen of the little birds. Dr. Rottner also relayed reports from rehabbers farther west on Long Island. Outside of Long Island, we did not see anything out of the ordinary background mortality of Dovekies.

Razorbills reported in February to the WHER.

Razorbills reported in February to the WHER.

Not so for Razorbills. Back in December, we started receiving reports of dead Razorbills all the way down in Florida, where they do not normally spend time. By January, a handful of birds had been found dead in North Carolina. The mortality wave continued to recede northward, with dead Razorbills reported in New York in early February, and then Rhode Island and Massachusetts by mid-February. We continue to get reports from Cape Cod of yet more Razorbills, and our tally is almost 30 birds total for the winter. Compare this with a more typical year, where we might see 3-5 Razorbills reported dead, and they only in the Northeast, not in North Carolina or Florida.

Mary Myers always finds dead birds, but this is unusually cool.

Mary Myers always finds dead birds, but this is unusually cool.

Atlantic Puffins have been the superstars of this winter’s weirdness though. We almost never get any reports of puffins at all, maybe one every couple years. This winter, beginning in January, we started to hear of puffins, both live and dead, turning up on Cape Cod. WildCare in Eastham, MA is currently caring for a couple of puffins who showed up after the big blizzard a couple weeks ago. The birds seem to be making good progress. We did have one report of a dead puffin found well before the storm, but the rest have turned up in the days immediately after. We are watching to see if they continue to be affected, and if we will ultimately see the numbers we’re seeing of Razorbills. Unlikely, and we expect Razorbills to continue to be the winners of this dubious honor of deadest group.

A lucky Razorbill ready for release at the Evelyn Alexander Center. (photo: B. Rottner)

A lucky Razorbill ready for release at the Evelyn Alexander Center. (photo: B. Rottner)

How can you help? If you’re a Seanetter, and you find a bird on your beach, that bird is automatically reported to the Wildlife Health Event Reporter (WHER). If you find a bird on a non-survey beach walk, or if you’re not a Seanetter at all, you can also report to WHER. It takes only a moment to set up an account, and you can report any and all sick or dead wildlife you find anywhere in the world! We are trying very hard to fully capture the duration and extent of these various mortalities, and we need your help! Visit WHER to report, or just to check out the data. It’s publicly available and cool to play around with.




3 responses

25 02 2013
Lord High Executioner

Any idea about cause of death? I heard that the southern movement of razorbills might be due to low food stocks up this way. Are these birds starving?

1 03 2013

I’m getting my grubby hands on some of the puffins for necropsy–perhaps a necropsy party at NSCC?

1 03 2013

Necropsy party? I’m in! I’ll bring the alcohol (to preserve bits in, of course!).

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