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500 Elegant Tern chicks rescued in California harbor

Elegant Tern
In this screen shot from a video, young Elegant Terns are show in a rescue facility. Image from International Bird Rescue

Since July 7, the California-based wildlife rehabilitation nonprofit International Bird Rescue and its partners have been rescuing and caring for about 500 juvenile Elegant Terns. The young birds had hatched on barges in Long Beach Harbor, but they were startled over the Fourth of July weekend, likely by fireworks.

The organization needs donations to continue the work.

The baby seabirds dropped off the barges into the water and were found floating helpless, separated from their parents and unable to return to the colony. Without quick rescue and resuscitation, most of these vulnerable chicks would perish, and many did.

A statement this week from International Bird Rescue said chicks are still being scooped out of the water. They can’t climb back onto the barges, so they’re being cared for at a Bird Rescue facility.

The organization has three key priorities: ongoing rescues, expert patient care, and working to remedy this crisis in partnership with federal, state, and local authorities

“Our work isn’t done yet,” said JD Bergeron, CEO of Bird Rescue. “This seabird crisis requires quick minds and strong hearts to do the best for these impacted birds.”

Here’s more info from Bird Rescue:

Ongoing rescue efforts in the field

Bird Rescue’s immediate priority is saving the chicks in the water. Working closely with our valued partner agencies, we have had Bird Rescue experts in the harbor every day since the first reports surfaced from the public about drowning birds. All affected birds were transported to our Los Angeles wildlife center located in San Pedro.

One of the Good Samaritans aiding in these rescues is Lenny Arkinstall, Executive Director of Los Cerritos Wetlands Stewards. Lenny has volunteered his boat and rescue skills tirelessly since the start of this crisis.

Expert care for the birds in trouble

We have admitted around 500 chicks, this is above and beyond our normal caseload of patients! The chicks are regularly examined and evaluated, are hand fed two to four times a day, and receive daily medicines and dietary supplements. As the number of birds has ballooned, many of the birds in our facility before this crisis are now in outdoor aviaries to open up more indoor space to care for more younger patients.

Planning for long-term solutions

Birds are marked with a temporary color identifier, so workers can keep track of them. Photo by International Bird Rescue

Guided by Bird Rescue’s tradition of innovation, and deep expertise in seabird care, our team is creating and testing solutions in the field. A multi-layered approach will be required to support the nesting colony until the chicks are fully fledged.

Part of the plan includes marking birds with a temporary color identifier so we can track them. Bird Rescue experts deployed haul-outs, small custom-designed platforms for the baby birds to safely get out of the water until we can rescue them.

We hope to utilize the terns’ natural “creche” nesting behavior – adults helping raise young birds, collectively – as we begin to return the oldest, most fit chicks to the colony. As we move forward through the nesting season, we will continue to work to find the best possible way to help this colony thrive.

The importance of this seabird rescue effort goes well beyond the individual birds. In 2015, we reported on a study that said warming seas are negatively affecting the birds’ breeding success on their primary nesting island in the Gulf of California. If one nesting colony fails, it could be devastating for the entire population.

In a colony such as this, adult Elegant Terns stay with their young for up to six months, teaching them to forage. Bird Rescue knows that the best outcome for the young birds will be to return them to the colony as soon as possible so the adults can resume that critical role.

“The work Bird Rescue is doing is very important and will help the species,” said Enriqueta Velarde, Ph.D. and researcher from Universidad Veracruzana, who studies Elegant Tern populations, especially in the Gulf of California.

“The population is in trouble in the Gulf of California nesting colonies and this is due to increased ocean temperatures. These changes have caused food shortages for these terns. And overfishing of forage fish has exacerbated the problem,” she explained.

In the meantime, the public is asked to stay clear of this delicate rescue operation.

Thanks to International Bird Rescue for providing this information.

Learn more:

Warming seas, overfishing drive Elegant Terns away from primary nesting site

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