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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beach Bird Rescue

Robin and I went to Jacob Riis Park on Monday. It was the first time in about a month that I noticed lots of migrating shorebirds.

The vast majority of the small shorebirds seen heading south appeared to be Sanderlings, but there were also a few Least Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones. American Oystercatchers seemed to be a lot more abundant, but that might just be the result of this year's local broods becoming more active.

We were walking west along the beach, towards Fort Tilden, when I spotted a young Common Tern standing on the sand. It was next to an adult that I assumed was its parent. The adult flew off as we got closer, but the young bird stayed. A Herring Gull approached the small tern, then grabbed it in its bill. The tern struggled to get loose. I ran over waving my arms and the gull flew off, leaving the visibly shaken tern behind. The juvenile bird seemed alright, but didn't attempt to fly, even as I bent down to pick it up. I decided to place it on the wooden pilings at the end of one of the jetties, thinking that it was safer than on the beach. Robin and I then continued walking down the beach.

When we returned I noticed that the tern was no longer resting on the jetty so I assumed he had regained his senses and flown off. Then Robin pointed to a spot in the sand at the edge of the receding waves. I'm not sure if he had flown to that spot or fell into the water and was carried to the shore, either way, he didn't look well. I picked him up and called Bobby Horvath. Bobby was working in Rockaway until 5pm, but told me to drop off the tern at the firehouse on Beach 169th Street and he would pick it up on his way home. The firehouse was closed until 1pm, so I had to hold on to the bird for a little while. I walked up to one of the food concessions to get a small cardboard box. By this time the tern seemed to have gotten used to me and had settled down. He didn't appear to have any external injuries and he was able to hold his wings out, so there didn't seem to be any fractures. The girl working the concession seemed completely freaked out by the tern. I tried to reassure her that it wasn't going to hurt her and that it weighed less than a half a roll of pennies. She forced a smile then slid two cardboard beverage holders across the counter. I put the tern in one, poked several 2" holes into the second cardboard piece then placed in over the top.

A constant Northwest breeze kept the beach comfortably cool. I put the box holding the tern in the shade of my chair and checked on him every few minutes. Each time I looked he was sitting with his head up, occasionally peering out through a large rectangular opening in the box's side. At 1pm I put on my sneakers to walk the bird over to the firehouse. As I bent down to pick up the box, I saw that the tern was no longer sitting up, but lying on his side with his head curled in, his bill tucked into his belly. His eyes were barely opened and he was taking short, shallow breaths. Gazing down at the small mound of feathers and flesh, I suddenly felt completely inadequate. Only a few minutes earlier I felt good about rescuing this bird and his odds of survival. But now, all I could do was watch his breathing slow, then stop. Robin put a reassuring hand on my shoulder and offered her sympathy. I felt bad for that tiny bird, especially since it never made it past his first few months of life. Under the circumstances, I guess I did the best that I could. Funny, I think Robin feels worse for me than the poor bird. It's been a couple of days and she is still acting like I lost a family member.

1 comment:

Starz723 said...

Rob, good thing I wasnt there or I would have felt just as bad. Im feeling so sad just reading this. But, its people like you that this world needs more of. I would have done the same thing in trying to rescue it. Good Karma points coming your way. It reminds me of day we tried to save the baby robin. All we could do was say NOOOOOOOOO when JR the red tail hawk found it in what we thought was a safe spot. We try.


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