A long life after pollution: two guillemots’ stories

Guest post by Jean Bradford MBE.  Since 1983, Jean has run the South Devon Seabird Trust which specialises in the rescue, treatment and rehabilitation of oiled seabirds, particularly guillemots. Over the years there has been much comment on the survival rates of birds released into the wild following rehabilitation. As Jean writes below in a recent email to RSPB and others, with proper care, and if nurtured back to a healthy body weight, these birds can potentially live a long time …

Image: Andy Hay (www.rspb-images.com)

No doubt several rehabilitators will have had ringing recoveries for auks that met their fate during the very severe Atlantic storms which lashed Spain, France and the south-west of the UK last winter.  I am informed by the RSPB that over 30,000 seabirds, the vast majority of which were auks,  perished in this violent weather.

Two of our guillemots were caught up in this disaster, and whilst, under normal circumstances, I would not bring this to anyone’s attention, one of the recoveries in particular warrants a place in our Rehabilitation Case Histories.

This particular guillemot was found at Jard-sur-Mer, France on 8th February 2014, freshly dead – reason: ‘violent weather’.  Duration of time between release and finding was 4996 days.

We had released this bird on June 5th 2000 after almost 6 months in care. It had been admitted to our centre on December 30th 1999, heavily contaminated with oil AND injured, necessitating an operation on its wing. Its ‘recorded weight’ at time of release was 715g.

It had been weighed on two previous occasions prior to release – on March 6th it weighed 700g and on May 2nd weighed 685g.

The point I’d like to make is that some rehabilitators might consider that this bird had all the hallmarks of one that might not survive. However, not only did it survive a) heavy oiling, b) an operation, c) a longer than normal time in care and d) being only 715g at time of release, it went on to have another (almost) 14 years of life. In my opinion it deserves a place in the file of case studies for future reference.

Incidentally the other ringing recovery was for a guillemot which we had released on March 9th, 1999 and was found almost 15 years (5465 days) later at Getaria, Spain. It is recorded as freshly dead on shore due to the storms. Its ‘recorded weight’ at time of release was 825g.  As far as our records are concerned it did not have any notable problems other than being a victim of oil pollution. However, it too is testament to the fact that oiled auks do survive rehabilitation.

You can find out more about the trust at http://www.seabirdtrust.co.uk/


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