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November 20, 2013

A Long Way From Home

Migratory bird species recover at South Florida Wildlife Center

  • A close-up of one of the shearwaters shows its characteristic tube-nose anatomy. Mari Diaz/SFWC

  • One of the Cory's Shearwaters recovers during his first few days at the Center. Mari Diaz/SFWC

Before they even began the long trek across the Atlantic Ocean on their way to winter in West Africa, two Cory’s Shearwaters were found exhausted and sick in South Florida, desperately in need of lifesaving care. Thanks to quick rescue, both arrived at South Florida Wildlife Center and have begun the rehabilitation process that will allow them to return to their natural environment.

Cory’s Shearwaters are medium sized birds, an average of 18 inches long, who have incredible wing spans for their size—up to 44 inches! Their wings are uniquely bowed, which allows them to use infrequent, deep beats to glide through the wind currents that exist just above the ocean water.

Shearwater bird species, in general, are great travelers. The Sooty Shearwater covers up to 8,000 miles its migration from the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina to Norway each year. Cory’s Shearwaters spend much of their time flying over water, with time spent on land only during the summer breeding season.

Likely without proper nutrition to fuel this type of lifestyle, the two shearwaters at the Center became extremely anemic and were cold, thin, and weak when they were found. Upon intake, they were dangerously close to needing blood transfusions to save their lives. Despite just being admitted to the Center at the end of October and beginning of November, both Cory’s Shearwaters are out of the hospital and beginning to eat on their own.

However, another challenge still remains. With time spent out of the water, their feathers are no longer waterproof. When they are placed in water, their wings stay wet instead of repelling the water as they should. Through repeated sessions of swimming and preening—a process in which the birds spread their natural oils throughout their feathers—both Cory’s Shearwaters will eventually regain waterproofed feathers as well.

Following successful rehabilitation, the Cory’s Shearwaters will be released on the beach where they can rejoin their migrating flocks.

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