July 05, 2006
Local Beaches: Dead Birds Discovered
More than 20 dead Shearwaters, birds that generally stay out over the open ocean, were found dead at beaches in Southampton and East Hampton last week. Specimens have been sent to the state's Department of Environmental Conservation pathology lab in an effort to determine the causes of death.
Sixteen birds were found washed up at ocean beaches in East Hampton, from Town Line to Montauk Point, and eight have been collected at Southampton beaches from Ponquogue to Flying Point. "A couple were alive, but died at the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons," said Larry Penny, director of the East Hampton Town Natural Resources Department.
The birds had no oil on them, no broken bones, and no signs that they had been shot, Penny noted. Three birds were sent to the state for testing. "You shouldn't take chances when a bunch of water birds wash up," Penny said.
The birds were scheduled to be tested this week for West Nile virus, Avian Flu, and poisoning, part of "the standard battery of tests that we give in these types of situation," said Bill Fonda, a spokesman for the DEC. The results from the West Nile and Avian Flu tests will be known this week; the more difficult tests for various types of poisons "will be done over a period of time," Fonda explained.
Fonda said the DEC had received Greater Shearwater specimens for testing, but Staci Weinstein, the hospital supervisor at the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons, said the center had treated two Manx Shearwaters, both of which subsequently died. The Greater Shearwater breeds on islands off of the South African coast and migrates to the Northern Hemisphere during the northern summer, staying mostly out over the ocean. The Manx Shearwater, a smaller bird, breeds in the North Atlantic and migrates to South America during the northern winter.
Greater Shearwaters normally weigh 800 grams, but "these birds weighed 400 grams, so they were very thin," Fonda said. Malnutrition was a "leading possibility" as to the cause of death, Penny said.
Between June and August of 2005, 734 dead shearwaters were collected at beaches along the east coast. The U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Center in Madison, Wisconsin determined starvation was the cause of death, according to Rex Sohn a wildlife disease specialist at the center.
According to the Audubon Guide to Eastern Birds, Greater Shearwaters, dull brown above with pale scaling, white below with dusky belly, and a dark cap, are adept divers, feeding on small fish and squid. The bird, 18 to 20 inches long with a wingspan of 45 inches, can be found on in the Northern Atlantic waters from May to November. The Manx Shearwater has a black upper part and white underside and feeds on marine mammals.