Community urged to look out for distressed seabirds during breeding season

With nesting season underway, Sea Life Park is urging the public to be aware of young native seabirds.

The park operates a seabird rehabilitation facility, and says it is already beginning to take in chicks that are in need of care.

Wildlife experts say federally protected wedge-tailed and Newell’s shearwater chicks can be particularly vulnerable, with October, November,and December among the most challenging months.

“These birds are fledglings. They’re learning how to fly,” said Jeff Pawloski, Sea Life Park curator. “They get up into the air at night, because they’re nighttime birds, and they get distracted by the lights, and they end up landing in places they didn’t intend to land.

“The neat thing about them is they are celestial navigators. They rely on the stars,” Pawloski continued, “so street lights and lights in all sorts of areas are really distracting, so they end up getting tired, landing who knows where, a backyard or in a parking lot, and that’s the critical point.”

On Kauai, night games for high school football have been prohibited during fledgling season for years. Games were moved from Friday nights to Saturday afternoons over concerns the field lights were attracting endangered seabirds. (This year, the county worked out a solution with wildlife officials to play four games at night.)

On Oahu, Sea Life Park says the community can help by learning the key signs to look for in a distressed seabird, and bringing any that are in need of care to its Seabird Rehabilitation Facility. It is also important not to intervene unless it is clear that the bird requires assistance.

Here are some guidelines:

  • If the bird is a hatchling (no feathers) or a nestling (fuzzy, few feathers) and shows no signs of injuries, it is best for the bird to be left alone. It will probably return to its nest. The bird may not have been abandoned, and its mother may be nearby.
  • A fledgling (with most of its feathers) is often seen on the ground near bushes or tall grass. It leaves the nest as part of the weaning process and may hop out to test its wings. Usually, the mother remains in the area watching over it. If the mother is seen, it’s best to leave the bird alone.
  • If a fledgling does not appear to have its mother nearby, or the bird has apparent injuries such as a bent wing, or is in an unsafe situation (i.e. a predator such as a dog or cat is lurking nearby), these temporary care instructions should be followed:
    • Pick the bird up from behind, wrapping a cloth around back and wings
    • Find a medium/large-sized box and pale a folded towel at the bottom
    • Ensure there are holes in the box big enough for airflow
    • Place the bird in the box and keep in a dark, quiet place
    • Keep the bird warm
    • Please don’t feed or leave a dish of water for the bird
    • Don’t handle it, and keep children and pets away

If you find such a bird or have any additional questions, you can call the Bird Sanctuary Hotline at (808) 259-2537.

The Sea Life Park Seabird Rehabilitation Facility cares for and releases several hundred birds each season. Those that are unable to be released are provided a home at the park’s Seabird Sanctuary. While October and November are particularly vulnerable months for native shearwaters, the facility is open year-round to assist distressed seabirds.

Drop-off stations have also been established at the Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) office in Kailua, Feather and Fur Animal Hospital also in Kailua, Hawaiian Humane Society in Honolulu and the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge near Kahuku. These stations provide safe spaces around the island where birds can be dropped off if the rescuer is unable to get directly to Sea Life Park.

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