Seabird deaths appear migration-related

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced to local Historic City News reporters that after examining some of the more than 150 dead or distressed birds sighted along the coast, researchers believe these deaths are related to stress from the species’ long, trans-Atlantic migration.

According to the Peterson Field Guide for Eastern Birds, the greater shearwaters, gull-like birds, spotted in St Johns, Volusia, Brevard and Indian River counties this week, migrate from their primary breeding grounds in a group of islands off the southwest coast of Africa, across the Atlantic, to Canada.

“This long migration, coupled with storms and high winds, can take its toll on some immature and older shearwaters, sapping their strength and making it difficult to feed,” said Dan Wolf, an FWC research biologist. “Upon examination of some of the dead greater shearwaters this week, we found the birds were young and emaciated, consistent with normal migration mortality.”

Migration-related deaths of greater shearwaters occur every year around this time, though the number varies. In 2007, researchers received reports of about 1,000 dead shearwaters during the migratory season.

Since Monday, citizens and wildlife rehabilitators, from Ponte Vedra Beach south to Vero Beach, have reported finding these dead birds in areas along the shoreline. Because greater shearwaters live most of their lives on the open sea, the deaths are only seen alongshore when winds are blowing inshore.

The public can report dead birds to the FWC online Anyone who encounters a dead or distressed bird is asked not to handle it. For assistance with sick or injured birds, citizens should contact a local wildlife rehabilitative facility.

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