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WIRES helps wedge-tailed shearwater migration

Thursday, June 05, 2014

On World Environment Day 2014, WIRES is celebrating the work of volunteers in the Mid-North Coast of NSW who worked to help some 540 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters successfully begin their migration north from Muttonbird Island this year.

Shearwaters are appropriately named because they can cut the water with their wings and are commonly referred to as ‘muttonbirds’.

Muttonbird Island off the coast of NSW, has long provided a safe nesting sight for hundreds-of-thousands of seabirds over the centuries. It is linked to the Coffs Harbour Marina via a breakwater wall and is the only pelagic seabird rookery on the east coast of Australia accessible on foot.

During April and May each year, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters migrate north to the Philippines from the island. The adult’s are the first to depart the rookery with the juveniles following on some weeks later.

“The success of a juvenile fledging depends greatly on weather conditions, their parents having an adequate food source to feed them beforehand and their ability to navigate,” says Claudia Nevell, a Bird Coordinator for WIRES.

“The seabirds take-off at night and navigate in part by light on the horizon. They can become disorientated by the light source inland at Coffs Harbour. When this happens, WIRES is there operating an intense, nightly rescue program over a period of weeks, collecting and helping them.

“We find the shearwaters in all sorts of places like boat ramps, doorways, gutters and in the middle of the roads of Coffs Harbour. Each bird is weighed and assessed and details are entered into a database. These statistics are passed on to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

“The vast majority of the birds we come across have experienced disorientation and are in good health.

"Shearwaters are unable to take to the air from a flat surface, needing the airlift provided by a cliff or wave top to become airborne. So every night, volunteers from WIRES and the community take the trek to the top of the hill on Muttonbird Island where recovered shearwaters can again attempt their migration.

“Local walkers and tourists that happen to be at the bottom of the hill when we arrive with birds that need to be released are always more than pleased to take part in such a unique experience.

"It is fantastic to see them become airborne and we watch on in awe of these magnificent, migratory creatures.

“WIRES would like to thank everyone who assisted hundreds of shearwaters this season,” says Claudia Nevell.

The Wedge-tailed Shearwater is the largest of the tropical shearwaters. They can be of grey-brown plumage with a white underside or entirely dark grey-brown. Tube-like nostrils can be found at the base of their beaks, a key characteristic of the species.

The ocean water provides all shearwater with their entire diet, the majority of which is fish. As global travelers, they will travel far and wide to places such as Antarctica, Japan, New Zealand and Siberia.

Media Contact: Carla Toyne (02) 8977 3327
Media Email: media@wires.org.au