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Hurricane Sandy Sweeps Rare Seabird to Cape Wildlife Center

Petrels typically live 30 miles offshore, rarely seen by rehabbers

  • Cape Wildlife Center carefully delivered fluids, nutrients, and medication to save the petrel's life. Deborah Millman/The HSUS

  • The tiny petrel – who rarely (if ever) sets foot on land – was placed afloat on a raft to keep him feeling safer and stress-free. Deborah Millman/The HSUS

  • Mirrors aboard the tiny raft are intended to help the petrel feel less lonely in his recovery bathtub. Deborah Millman/The HSUS

by Deborah Millman

Hurricane Sandy's blustering winds and driving rains took a heavy toll on Cape Cod's wildlife. In the days immediately following the storm, our Cape Wildlife Center tended to a stream of storm-weary and battered animals.

More than a dozen injured patients came in immediately following Hurricane Sandy. Among them were a pond turtle and a herring gull, both struck by cars while seeking protection from the hazardous weather; an infant squirrel blown from his nest; multiple bruised and battered songbirds; an eider (a type of sea duck) windswept into a building; and a common loon stranded by the storm. The stream of patients is expected to continue in the days ahead, as more and more injured wildlife is sighted and rescued.
The center itself suffered some property damage, including an uprooted tree, downed fencing, and damaged roofing.

A rare bird indeed

Hurricane Sandy's blustering winds also blew to shore a rarely seen (and among the tiniest!) seabirds—a storm petrel, now recuperating at Cape Wildlife Center.

"Petrels spend most of their lives on the open sea; they are most often only seen when blown ashore by storms," CWC Medical Director Dr. Roberto Aguilar said. "The birds typically stay at least 30 miles off-shore and are almost never seen on Cape Cod. This is one of the few we've ever seen at the Center."

A rescuer had found the seabird close to the shoreline, upside down and struggling in the water, buffeted miles off course by Hurricane Sandy. Arriving at the Center the evening after the hurricane had passed, the little bird was weak and weary.

After stabilizing the small, webbed-footed bird overnight, staff then faced the challenge of keeping the petrel as stress-free as possible.

Hurricane Sandy has taken its toll. Help us recover and rehabilitate animals battered by the storm »

Special birds  / special needs

"Because petrels almost never step on land, placing them in a standard seabird habitat to recover would be a huge stress on them. They need constant access to large bodies of salt water just to stay normalized," explained CWC Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation Lynn Miller. "Caring for them is among the most challenging tasks for wildlife rehabbers."

"Cape Wildlife Center has a 3,500 gallon saltwater pool and aviary that will suit the petrel well once he is deemed healthy—but, in the meantime, closer quarters are necessary," noted CWC Director Deborah Millman.

The solution? A bathtub.

A little pool for a little bird

Miller oversaw the set-up of the porcelain habitat, customizing the tub with a mirror for company, netting the top to prevent injuries, creating a strength-building diet, and calling for frequent saltwater showers to help the petrel regain his waterproofing.

Watch local news coverage of the petrel's recovery »

So far, the temporary oasis seems to be working.

"The petrel is underweight and storm-weary, but seems otherwise healthy," Miller said. "We will monitor his vital signs and provide the rehabilitation he needs to be returned to sea, healthy and strong."

Deborah Millman is director of the Cape Wildlife Center, operated by The HSUS in partnership with The Fund for Animals.

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