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November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy blew many birds off course

Thousands of homes in Massachusetts had their power knocked out this week by Hurricane Sandy, with the utilities promising to restore everyone by this weekend. That’s not the case for the tens of thousands in New York and New Jersey, who took the brunt of the storm. Our thoughts are with those people who have lost so much and we are certainly thankful that we were spared such devastation.

People ask me what happens to the birds during such violent storms. No doubt the birds take a toll as well, especially those close to the devastated areas. Birds seek shelter, much like humans do, and though some successfully find refuge in tree cavities, dense evergreens and man-made structures, including bird houses and roosting boxes, many don’t survive the worst of storms. For migrating birds, those that do survive sometimes get blown off course. Water birds, and seabirds especially, often show up out of their ocean environment. Such was the case with this past week’s storm.

A Salisbury Beach resident came into the store on Tuesday, the day after the storm, with photographs of a bird that was “trapped” in the stairwell to his cellar. The small, black-and-white bird had very short wings and wasn’t able to fly out.

It was a dovekie, a member of the alcid family of birds, which includes puffins. I called local wildlife rehabilitator David Taylor, who went to Salisbury to rescue the bird. He reported that the bird was fine, but the waters of Salisbury were too rough to release it there. Instead, he took the bird to Plum Island, where the ocean waters were calmer and successfully released it there.

A short time later, David stopped by the store with another bird in hand. He wasn’t sure of its identification. It was a Leach’s Storm Petrel, a bird of the open ocean. Usually we have to go out on a pelagic trip miles offshore to see these birds. A few had been spotted from land during the storm, the strong easterly winds pushing them closer the coast of New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

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