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Pool Saves Seabirds' Lives

Difficult-to-rehabilitate seabirds benefit from hydro-therapy at Cape Wildlife Center

  • The heated water of the pool allowed a recent bird patient—a thick-billed murre—to spend long hours in the water waterproofing its feathers. Deborah Millman/Cape Wildlife Center

  • After successful rehabilitation, a merganser is released back into the wild to join her flock. Deborah Millman/Cape Wildlife Center

  • The clean water of the pool helps to ensure that this grebe patient stays infection-free. Deborah Millman/Cape Wildlife Center

Wildlife rehabilitation requires creative measures that take into consideration each species' specific needs. Cape Wildlife Center recently built a pool just for the seabirds who come into its care. Seabirds, by nature, are fairly difficult to rehabilitate. The new pool helps to speed the process.

The pool provides a constant stream of cleansed water, which quickly removes contaminants, speeds waterproofing of the seabirds' feathers, and helps to reduce stress.

Thick-billed murre
Among the first patients to benefit from Cape Wildlife Center’s hydrotherapy pool were two thick-billed murres. The medium-sized seabirds live in arctic waters and migrate through Massachusetts on their way to warmer climates for the winter. They dive underwater to feed. Were it not for adequate waterproofing that their feathers have, they would surely die of hypothermia.

These two murres arrived at the Center in extremely poor condition and with inadequate waterproofing. Initially, they spent very little time in the pool. But, as the waterproofing of their feathers improved—the very result of spending time in water and then preening themselves—the two birds eventually would spent hours paddling in the heated water.

Their release required collaboration—thick-billed murres do not live on land and must be released in the ocean a good distance from shore. Fortunately for the murres, the Center’s colleagues at The Center for Coastal Studies, which is dedicated to research and protection of marine mammals and coastal ecosystems, agreed to take the two birds out with them on a planned excursion.

Common merganser
A juvenile common merganser was brought to Cape Wildlife Center by animal control officers after she was found weak and unable to fly. In winter, these sea ducks form large flocks on the water to feed and court. However, they can succumb to cold temperatures and a lack of proper food.

The merganser had an infection and was underweight and inadequately waterproofed. She was treated at the Center for 12 days, during which time she received pain and infection-fighting medication, iron supplements, fluids, and proper nutrition. She used the pool every day until she was fully waterproofed and healthy.

When she was strong again, she was released back into the flock from which she came, in plenty of time to mate and rear babies.

Red-necked grebe
Red-necked grebes are migratory aquatic birds who breed in Canada and Alaska and migrate to both the east and west coasts of the United States for the winter. This particular red-necked grebe patient was found in the middle of a state highway and brought to Cape Wildlife Center for treatment. There was a cut on the bird’s wing, and blood work revealed a low white cell count, making the bird vulnerable to infection.

The grebe is currently receiving medical and rehabilitative treatment, including long stints in the hydrotherapy pool in order to speed healing by reducing stress and enhancing the bird’s waterproofing and strength. The staff anticipates releasing the newly healthy grebe soon.

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