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April 21, 2014

New Species Arriving at Cape Wildlife Center

Environmental factors sending rarely-seen species to CWC for care

  • The black guillemot rests next to the hydro-therapy pool. Deborah Millman/Cape Wildlife Center

  • A close-up of the black guillemot in the care of Cape Wildlife Center. Deborah Millman/Cape Wildlife Center

  • A snowy owl, rarely seen in Cape Cod, also recently received care at Cape Wildlife Center. Deborah Millman/Cape Wildlife Center

Despite treating more than 135 native and migratory species a year, Cape Wildlife Center is receiving, rehabilitating, and releasing an increasing number of species that are not native to Massachusetts. For example, one of the Center’s recent patients is a black guillemot—a member of the puffin family that breeds and lives off the coasts of northern Canada and Greenland and is only rarely seen this far south.

The black guillemot was found stranded in the middle of the street in Barnstable, Mass., likely blown ashore by recent heavy winds. It is believed that these extreme environmental occurrences—including the effects of climate change—are driving birds to new areas in search of food and nesting locations. This particular patient is recuperating in the Center’s hydro-therapy pool. Once he is healthy and strong, the black guillemot will be released late in the day at a local beach. The time frame and location will allow him to get his bearings and avoid being harassed by gulls, who are most active earlier in the day.

Black guillemots are not the only species to show up with increasing regularity in the Cape Cod area. Snowy owls are also appearing in record numbers. It is conjectured that a recent wealth of food sources and good temperatures in their usual nesting areas provided for an exceptional number of offspring who then traveled farther south in search of their own nesting locations.

Pelagic sea birds—those who spend most of their time out in open water instead of close to shore—have been blown ashore by strong northeastern winds. Last year, even a wayward pelican found his way to the Center. Since it was too cold to let him continue his migration, the pelican was flown by plane to Florida for release.

While this year’s long winter brought higher than average numbers of seabirds to Cape Wildlife Center, the flow of orphaned infant animals in need of care was delayed. A steady stream of infant cottontail rabbits, squirrels, and other wildlife is now in full force, though, and the Center anticipates a busy fall season of wildlife care—already, intake is up 12% over last year, which keeps all hands busy and habitats full.

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