Ocean Watch: Bird fallout occurs when shearwaters head to sea
If you’ve never seen one of Hawaii’s shearwaters up close, get ready to fall in love. It’s fallout season, and that means our fluffy favorites will fall into Hawaii’s homes and hearts.
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If you’ve never seen one of Hawaii’s shearwaters up close, get ready to fall in love. It’s fallout season, and that means some of our fluffy favorites will fall into Hawaii’s homes and hearts.
Fallout season is what seabird specialists call September through December, because that’s when our native shearwater chicks leave their coastal and islet underground burrows at night and head to sea.
Usually guided to the ocean by moonlight, the youngsters raised near human-inhabited islands sometimes mistake land lights for the ocean and fly inland instead of seaward. When the fledglings hit wires, trees and buildings, they fall to the ground lost and exhausted.
Often, downed shearwaters simply need rest and reorientation, and they can then be on their way.
Fallout can happen in all fall months but peaks around the middle on new-moon nights, when moonlight is absent or showing only briefly in slivers. This year that’s Oct. 28-29 and Nov. 26-27, the toughest navigation times for the seabird youngsters, and the days they most need our help.
Shoreside residents can decrease fallout by turning off unnecessary lights, closing curtains over large windows and keeping cats indoors and dogs on leashes.
To identify a shearwater, look for gray-and-white or black feathers, tubelike nostrils, webbed feet and a length of 14-
18 inches. Some young shearwaters sit near their burrow openings, waiting for the right moment to take flight. Leave them. They’ll figure it out.
A live shearwater in a road, yard, park, golf course or parking lot, however, usually needs a hand.
Thanks to efforts of concerned workers at the Department of Land and Natural Resources, some nonprofit organizations and a few private establishments, if you find a such a downed bird, there are options. One is to take it to a drop-off facility.
It’s legal to pick up shearwaters that need saving. But get smitten, not bitten. These usually docile birds might bite when first approached, but often they’re tired and confused, and quickly accept helping hands. If you find a shearwater, follow the guidelines on the delightful 1:45 minute video at bit.ly/358NRj5 by Ilana Nimz of Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge.
On Oahu, Kailua’s Feather and Fur Animal Hospital takes fallen shearwaters, as does Sea Life Park.
If you don’t want to touch the bird, call Hawaii Wildlife Center or Hawaii Marine Animal Response. Both have workers who will come pick up the bird.
Several websites offer guidance, photos and phone numbers for all islands. Use the search words “seabird fallout.”
Once you meet one of these endearing native seabirds, a fishermen’s favorite because the birds help them locate tuna, you’ll find yourself, like me, in love for life.
To reach Susan Scott, go to susanscott.net and click on “Contact” at the top of her home page.