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Flight Time for Injured Eider

Wildlife center rehabs bird and releases into harbor

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


    Parents and kids participating in April Vacation Week at Mass Audubon Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary looked on as the lid was lifted to free the common eider. Heather Fone/HSUS

  • Takeoff time! Fone/HSUS

A female Common Eider injured in the wild and rehabilitated was released back to Barnstable Harbor earlier this month as children and parents participating in April Vacation Week at Mass Audubon Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary watched in awe.

The bird—a species that has become a more frequent resident of Massachusetts’ waters recently—had been caught in the intake of a Sandwich power plant four days before her release. The eider was weak and unable to fly when she was taken to the Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable. She recovered her strength with assistance of staff members, who fed and cared for her until she could become waterproof again, said Dr. Roberto Aguilar, the center's staff veterinarian.

Ready to Fly

When the bird was ready, Aguilar contacted Jodie Limon Montoya at Mass Audubon Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary to release the bird on the center’s Bone Hill Beach. Coincidentally, Montoya was teaching a class on “Beach Birds” to a handful of children and parents participating in the sanctuary’s program the day before the eider was to be set free, so she treated the group to the Common Eider’s release.

“The children were extremely excited about our surprise guest and the great sound her wings made as she flew to the water,” Montoya said. “They all agreed that she seemed very happy to be back in Barnstable Harbor.”

Growing Population

The Common Eider is protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  Following historic lows in the 1930s, populations have steadily climbed in New England, even though the bird once was rarely known to breed south of Maine.  In 1975, the birds were introduced to the Elizabeth Islands and have returned to breed there since.

In recent years, the species’ breeding population in Massachusetts has increased significantly. Mass Audubon, the largest conservation organization in New England, suggests they might have moved south to escape hunting pressure farther north.

“In these days, where so much of the news is about wildlife populations that are in the decline, it’s nice to have some that appear to be recovering,” said Dr. John Grandy, senior vice president for wildlife and habitat protection for The Humane Society of the United States, which operates the center in partnership with The Fund for Animals.

“Common Eiders are part of an incredibly beautiful group of sea ducks whose exploitation is hopefully on its way to being an artifact of the past, much like whaling.”

Visit Mass Audubon to learn more about Massachusetts birds.   

The Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, Mass., is operated in partnership with The Fund for Animals and The Humane Society of the United States to promote and protect the health and well-being of native wildlife and their habitats. Since 2000, the center has been open 365 days a year, providing emergency care and wildlife rehabilitation.

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