Dead seabirds slowly fade away

21 10 2013

Since we began tagging birds with individually numbered tags, it’s been fascinating to see how carcasses persist for months on one beach while they’re washed away almost immediately on others. We’re beginning an in-depth data analysis for the state of Massachusetts this month, and one thing we’re keenly interested in is exactly this sort of persistence data on individual birds. Though not a case from Massachusetts, the pair of photos below, taken by Paula Gillikin on her North Carolina beach, demonstrate the changes a carcass can undergo, especially during high decomposition season, summer. The bird’s tag, number 399, was still clearly legible, though the bird itself was basically unrecognizable. Because we have an individual number on the bird, we know it’s a loon, and can even use such photos to help us identify unknown carcasses that are well decomposed–we have a known reference.

The other item of note–this carcass was barely visible by the time September rolled around, yet the aluminum tag and orange cable tie protrude above the sand like a small but conspicuous little flag. All the more reason to be sure we fully mark all carcasses!

Common loon tagged in mid-June.

Common loon tagged in mid-June.

The same Common Loon, barely visible, in September.

The same Common Loon, barely visible, in September.

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