Common Murres

Starving seabirds receive help at WildCare

common murres in incubator

Common Murres in incubator. Photo by Alison Hermance

In 2014, WildCare’s Wildlife Hospital admitted a total of 34 Common Murres– a black and white seabird native to our area, but rarely seen due to their pelagic (ocean-going) nature.

But in the first two weeks of September alone, the Wildlife Hospital admitted 33 Common Murres, and more are arriving every day.

The birds that arrive at WildCare mostly come in wrapped in the jackets or towels of beachgoers. They are covered in sand, dehydrated, and emaciated. These birds aren’t finding enough food in the ocean off the Northern California coast, and are washing up on shore, starving and too weak to fly away.

According to scientists, a pocket of warm water off our coast is causing the small fish like anchovies and smelt that murres eat to dive deeper than usual, making them inaccessible to hungry birds.common murre 4

Interestingly, the birds being admitted to WildCare are mostly first-year juvenile murres, young birds that have just recently left the watchful care of their fathers (male murres take over the training of juveniles once they leave the nest).

These young birds may not be as adept at deep diving, or they simply may not know that food is more available at deeper depths. They are trying to find food the way they were taught, and failing. Weak and hungry murres sit on the water and are carried by currents and waves to the beachcommon murre 6es.

It is rare for a murre to come to shore. Even though they nest in the thousands off the coast (the Farallon Islands are a prime nesting ground for Common Murres), they hardly ever come ashore. WildCare knows there’s an ill or injured murre whenever our Living with Wildlife Hotline (415-456-SAVE (7283) receives a call that there’s a penguin on the beach— Murres’ tuxedo-like plumage and distinctive stance makes them look somewhat like penguins, although they are not related species.

But people that spend time on Bay Area beaches are becoming heart-breakingly familiar with Common Murres. Although hundreds have been rescued, many more wash up dead. A recent count at Stinson Beach counted over 30 dead murres at the water line.

Fortunately WildCare is here to help the birds that have not yet succumbed to starvation and dehydration. The murres we admit receive a full physical exam to check for injuries, and we draw blood to check levels of dehydration and emaciation.

The birds receive oxygen if necessary, and they’re tubed with an electrolyte solution to help them rehydrate. They are placed in a warm incubator on a tightly-stung net to prevent injuries for birds accustomed to floating in water. Emaciated patients will also receive a liquid fish slurry, also through a tube directly into the stomach. These very time-intensive patients must be tube femurres at IBRd every 3 – 4 hours.

As soon as they are stable, we transfer these birds to another center that specializes in pelagic birds– International Bird Rescue. There, the birds spend time in warm pools, receiving supportive care, medications if necessary and tube-feedings to help them recover their strength.

In WildCare’s new Wildlife Hospital (click to learn more about our plans for our new facility and our Capital Campaign to raise funds for it) we hope to have at least one warm-water pool to care for pelagic birds such as these. This would avoid putting them through the stress of transfer to IBR, and would allow us to care for a wider array of patients.

WildCare encourages aKPIX shotnyone who sees a beached murre (or any ill or injured animal) to call our Living with Wildlife Hotline immediately at 415-456-SAVE (7283). Our trained operators can walk you through safely rescuing the bird and bringing him or her to our Wildlife Hospital.

A KPIX Channel 5 news team recently did a story on the number of sick and dead murres washing up on local beaches, and they happened to catch a rescuer bringing her injured murre to WildCare’s Wildlife Hospital… click here to watch the Bay Area news story.