Spread the word: reports of dead birds urgently needed!

10 04 2013
Hundreds of Common Loons have turned up dead in the mid-Atlantic.

Hundreds of Common Loons have turned up dead in the mid-Atlantic. (photo by W. Stanton)

As we are scrambling to keep tabs on mortality events involving puffins, razorbills and common loons from Florida to Maine, some of our colleagues have an eye toward writing up these strange occurrences both for immediate release to the public, as well as for future, more measured (and peer-reviewed) scientific articles. While we are actively performing necropsies to try to determine cause of death in any fresh specimens found, a major focus of the work right now is simply getting a handle on how many birds are dying or have died, what species, where and when. I have email chains and voicemail messages, and facebook posts and blog comments from all over the east detailing dead birds discovered on beaches, and I am determined to get these reports all funneled into a single database that is publicly available for all to see.

That single resource is the Wildlife Health Event Reporter. It takes only a moment to set up a (free) username and password, and it is simple to use. You can even upload photos (assuming they aren’t too big). If we can get everyone to report to this one place, we can start to map what’s really happening out there.

If you have been in contact with me directly the past few weeks, I have probably personally pestered you to use WHER. But we need this message to be spread far and wide, to anyone who might receive either birds (wildlife rehabbers, museums…) or reports thereof (biologists, federal and state agency folks…) so please, share this post with your friends (facebook and otherwise) with rehab facilities, with anyone and everyone associated even loosely with the coast. The more of these reports we get into this database, the more powerful the data become. I am fairly well connected in the seabird world, but my list of contacts is woefully insufficient to accurately capture mortalities over this kind of geographic and temporal scale. So let’s harness the power of this new-fangled internet to do some old-fashioned counting, shall we?


Oh great. Now grebes?!

7 03 2013
Horned Grebe found on Cape Cod by Mary Myers.

Horned Grebe found on Cape Cod by Mary Myers.

We are still in the throes of a sizeable Razorbill die-off, and a smaller, though still notable puffin mortality event, and yet it now appears we might have yet another unusual data blip. In the past three weeks, we’ve have five Horned Grebe carcasses turn up on SEANET beaches in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. This is a bit out of the ordinary; we generally get a sporadic report or two in an entire year, and sometimes not even that. Not a single Horned Grebe was reported to SEANET in 2012. Whether this event will continue, and whether it will approach truly alarming proportions cannot be determined just yet. This is about the time grebes are migrating away from their wintering waters along the coast and flying by night toward their nesting ponds in western Canada and Alaska. Reports to eBird.org show Horned Grebes disappearing from the east coast right around now, and then by summer, nary a grebe is in sight. We may be seeing this uptick in mortality simply because the birds are on the move, though why we wouldn’t then see it every year, I don’t know.

Frequency of Horned Grebes in birding lists from Massachusetts.

Frequency of Horned Grebes in birding lists from Massachusetts. (ebird.org)

We’ve also had a single report from Dan Tracey, (who walks the same beach I do in Salisbury, MA) of a Red-necked Grebe: a larger species, with a yellowish bill, and, from the looks of this picture, sometimes yellow feet as well. This bird seems more of a one off event so far at least, but as ever, we are keeping a weather eye on the horizon for the next big thing in dead birds.

If you’ve found a dead bird, and you are either not a Seanetter, or the bird was not found on an official SEANET walk, please report it to the Wildlife Health Event Reporter! It only takes a moment to set up an account, it’s free, and you will be helping us keep tabs on these mortalities.

Red-necked Grebe found by Dan Tracey.

Red-necked Grebe found by Dan Tracey.