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Ailing Sea Bird Far From Home

Arctic resident found in Massachusetts

The Humane Society of the United States / The Fund for Animals

By Julie Hauserman

  • This Northern Fulmar, usually a resident near the Arctic Circle, was found way off course on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. Vernon Laux/Linda Loring Nature Foundation

  • After a few weeks of rehabilitation at the Cape Wildlife Center, Freddie the Fulmar, as he came to be known, was fat and sassy and ready to take flight. Vernon Laux/Linda Loring Nature Foundation

  • A pelagic species, the Northern Fulmar lives full-time on the open ocean, taking to land only to lay a single egg. Vernon Laux/Linda Loring Nature Foundation

  • After a running start, the Northern Fulmar skims the surface of the water with his belly until he's airborne. Vernon Laux/Linda Loring Nature Foundation

  • Vernon Laux/Linda Loring Nature Foundation

It’s extremely rare to see a bird like the Northern Fulmar standing on the side of the road. The pelagic species spend their lives on the open ocean, only needing land to lay a single egg.

The bird also makes its home near the Arctic Circle.  So when someone spotted one on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, they figured he needed help.

To the Rescue

Renowned birder Vern Laux got the call, asking if he might be able to check out the rare visitor.

Juding from his immaculate plumage and feathering, Laux said the bird was young and in his first fall season.

“We fed him a bit and tried to release him, but he was way too weak,” Laux said.

Freddie, as the bird came to be called, was air freighted to Hyannis and then transferred to Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable Village earlier this fall for rehabilitation. Dr. Roberto Aguilar, veterinarian and interim director of the wildlife center, treated him.

On the Mend

“The biggest challenge with water birds is that they need waterproofing to survive,” Aguilar said.

At the center, Freddie was bathed repeatedly in salt water to stimulate glands in his beak which secrete natural waterproofing.

“He started preening his feathers until he was completely waterproofed,” Aguilar said.

Ready To Go

After several weeks of rest in the saltwater tanks at Cape Wildlife Center—where he quickly became a favorite of the staff and volunteers—Freddie’s eating and weight increased, and he was treated for corneal ulcers in his eyes. When he was well enough, Freddie was flown back to Nantucket for release a few weeks later.

“They did an amazing job rehabbing that bird,” Laux said. “He came back fat and sassy. We released him at Madaket Harbor on the west side of Nantucket.”

Laux followed the bird in a 16-foot center console boat, watching Freddie make longer and stronger flights, until he was gone, back into the wild, in tip-top shape.

Listen to Vern Laux's Podcast about Freddie.


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