Young Seabirds Battle Starvation

Bayside, Ca., (KIEM)- Migration season is just beginning for several bird species, and soon, flocks will be arriving all along the Pacific Coast.  By the middle of October, wildlife experts expect a number of young birds, born elsewhere to find their way here, where they’ll be bracing for their first winter.

When most young birds arrive on the North Coast, they’ve already lost most of their body mass on their journey. 

“If they arrive and they land in the ocean and everything is great, and there are adult’s there demonstrating how fishing works that all goes very well and they become successful adults,” Monte Merrick, the director of Humboldt Wildlife Care Center says, “but they also often get here at the same time as our Pacific storms. We’ve had years… 2014 was a classic example, we treated nearly 100 Western Grebes that summer.” 

This October may be particularly brutal according to Merrick. The center is already treating two young Double Crested Cormorants who were found emaciated and anemic, struggling for survival. 

“If you see a seabird grounded on the beach, they very rarely belong there.” Merrick explains. He’s been caring for wildlife on the North Coast for 20 years. “It’s difficult bringing a baby back from that. On one hand it’s easy, because fish is the cure. So they get here and warmth and fluids are the first thing we give, just like a lost hiker. You bring them in, get them a cup of hot tea and set them by the fire.”

One of the dark (and not horribly water resistant) cormorants Merrick is treating looks very healthy after just two days of treatment. The other, has been at the Wildlife Care Center for six days, and has had to battle much harder for a positive prognosis. 

“I didn’t have high hopes for him at all, but he’s got the fighter’s spirit.” Merrick recalls, “He came in on the sixth, so this is his sixth day in care. It was really touch and go the first few days but now I’m confident that he’s going to pull through.” 

Merrick says it generally takes seabirds up to three weeks to recover, but he has high hopes for the two babies that are still relying on tube feeding. 

When October hits it is likely that more young birds will be grounded on the beach. If you see any, you can call the Care Center at (707)822-8839, and a volunteer will help plan for the animal’s care. 

“They’re astonishing and sort of like ambassadors from the oceanic world.” Merrick says with a smile.