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Starving Common Murre Brought Back to Full Health and Returned to the Wild

Posted by Ali Berman at Oct 14, 2015 11:20 AM |

In August our Care Center took in three Common Murres, a marine bird that some might mistake for a penguin due to its black and white feathers. These birds, although not brought in at the same time, all suffered from the same issue. Each one was emaciated and found in various states of distress by Good Samaritans along the Oregon coast.

Starving Common Murre Brought Back to Full Health and Returned to the Wild

Photo by Wendy Shoemaker

In August our Care Center took in three Common Murres, a marine bird that some might mistake for a penguin due to its black and white feathers. These birds, although not brought in at the same time, all suffered from the same issue. Each one was emaciated and found in various states of distress by Good Samaritans along the Oregon coast.

Two were too far gone, but one of the birds, with the help of a feeding tube, a daily water bath, a trampoline, and much TLC, recovered nicely in the Wildlife Care Center. Why the trampoline? Spending too much time on a hard surface can cause sores to form on the keel bone, an extension of the breastbone on the front of the bird. The small trampoline gave the Murre a nice soft space to safely rest while recuperating.

To us, bath time looked to be a highlight for the seabird. As soon as the juvenile Common Murre entered the water, the swimming, splashing and preening began.

Sadly, emaciated Common Murres are no rare sight along the coast these days. Media reports of die-offs for the species have been published from California up through Oregon and into Alaska. The birds have been washing up on shore, many already dead from starvation, and others, like the ones we cared for, have been taken in by rehabilitation facilities.

As the Audubon Society of Portland is some distance from the coast, we haven’t received as many calls about starving birds. During the height of these incidences, one of our partners, The Wildlife Center of the North Coast (WCNC), took in approximately 12 birds a day, and 90 percent of those were Common Murres. Those were the ones who were able to get help. Many more never made it to a wildlife rehabilitation facility.

In nature, dead birds may not be that unusual, but the number of dead birds has lately exceeded normal levels.

“Every bird we’re seeing is starving to death,” Joe Saranpaa, assistant director of the Wildlife Center of the North Coast, told the Daily Astorian. “It’s pretty bad.”

Why are these birds starving? Scientists have a few theories on what might be causing the problem. It could be that the fish the birds would normally feed on are going in search of cooler waters. It could be climate change. What isn’t up for debate? Something is seriously wrong and many species have been affected.

We are happy to report that the Common Murre we cared for was released back out into the wild on October 5 in Astoria, OR. It couldn’t have been a more perfect day for the release. Wendy Shoemaker, a volunteer, went out with The Wildlife Center for the North Coast. The juvenile Murre in our care was returned to the wild along with a group of 10 juvenile Murres the WCNC had rehabilitated. As with many releases, once the carriers were opened, the birds were out of their enclosure and back in the wild in seconds.

Common Murre Release single
Photo by Wendy Shoemaker

“Our guy was the first in the water,” said Shoemaker. “The murres all dove beneath the surface quite a bit as they swam away from the beach, then quickly were caught by the outgoing tide and floated under the bridge toward the ocean. I watched until I could see them no more and they were all still mostly in one area, separated a bit into two smaller tight groups.”

As the volunteers and rehabilitators watched the birds return to the water they also saw a group of sea lions in the distance. And, to add to the magic of the day, a humpback whale breached in the distance.

Common Murre Group
Photo by Wendy Shoemaker
Common Murre Group Release
Photo by Wendy Shoemaker
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