Migrating Seabirds

Migrating Seabirds

Monday, May 22, 2023

At this time of year WIRES often starts receiving calls to rescue hundreds of seabirds found dying along the coast.

The birds, mainly short-tailed shearwaters, are on their annual migration - one of the longest of any bird.

People find them on the beaches dying from exhaustion.

WIRES asks people who find an exhausted shearwater or any other seabird that is still alive to call WIRES on 1300 094 737 or contain in a box and take to the nearest vet. Do not attempt to feed or give water, keep it warm and quiet away from pets and children. These birds cannot fend for themselves and could be attacked by dogs and foxes, leaving them to die of horrific injuries.

Short-tailed shearwaters are amongst the worlds' most populous bird species. However mortality rates during migration can be very high.

The shearwater's chances of surviving their first migration can be slim. Short-tailed shearwaters leave Bass Straight in late April-early May, fly north east across the Pacific Ocean and on to the Bering Sea between Russia and Alaska to spend the Australian winter in the northern hemisphere. They live almost constantly on the wing returning to their islands via the east coast of Australia, to breed in late Spring and Summer.

Many are exhausted from the long migration and “crash” onto suburban and city beaches before they reach home. In some years, many hundreds of birds can be found dead or dying on beaches right along the coast of NSW.

A shearwater can lose almost half its body weight during the long migration so the chances of survival once washed ashore are very slim.

Several species of shearwaters come into the care of WIRES every year. These are the short-tailed, wedge-tailed and sooty shearwaters from Australian breeding grounds, and others from New Zealand breeding grounds.

In some years very large numbers of short-tailed shearwaters are found dead or dying on NSW beaches. As alarming as this may appear, it is natural mortality – the gruelling migration is perhaps nature's way of sorting the weak from the strong to ensure a healthy breeding population.

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