Monday, December 4, 2000
Birdsí calls sound
like human moans
ONE dark night in a remote research station of Hawaii's
northwest wildlife refuge, several biologists sat around a candle-lit
table. One worker was new to Hawaii, and they were all getting acquainted.
Suddenly, through the sounds of breaking surf and
blustery wind came an agonizing groan. The conversation stopped. Another
moan cut through the shrieking air.
"Someone is hurt," the newcomer gasped.
The refuge manager jumped up. "Let's go."
The workers grabbed flashlights and rushed out the
door. The eerie moans grew louder. Stooping, the manager shined his light
underneath the old barracks. "Oh, my God. Look!"
The newcomer bent down and stole an anxious glance into
the odorous space.
And that's when the veteran biologists burst out
laughing. Instead of a dying person, the newcomer was looking at a
surprised wedge-tailed shearwater wailing loudly for a mate.
This practical joke (popular among refuge workers) is
easy to pull off because the spring mating calls of shearwaters sound much
like humans groaning in pain. By fall, these moaners have mated, raised
chicks and taken off. Now their youngsters are venturing out to sea.
Unfortunately, fledgling shearwaters don't always make
it off our crowded islands. Some lose their way, then get stranded on our
lanais, lawns and doorsteps.
NICKNAMED wedgies in Hawaii, wedge-tailed shearwaters
spend most of their lives skimming, or shearing, the water's surface in
search of larval fish and flying squid driven to the surface by schools of
fish. This makes wedgies important to anglers, who use the birds as
Wedgies, who mate for life, return to their nesting
colonies between February and April. There, mated couples face each other
and sing long, wailing duets. Single birds groan alone to attract a mate.
Soon the pairs renovate or dig ground or rock burrows, mate and tend their
Most wedge-tail chicks are ready to leave their burrows
by late fall. The fledglings take their first flight at night and head for
But not always. Electric lights on the main islands
confuse the birds, and instead of flying seaward, they fly inland,
crashing into trees, power lines and houses. Without rescue, grounded
birds get hit by cars or eaten by cats, dogs or mongooses.
Here's how you can help a grounded shearwater:
1. Put the bird in a box with air holes in the lid.
This is not cruel. Dark, snug spaces are home to wedgie chicks. If you
aren't used to handling birds, drop a small towel over it before gently
placing it in the box. These mild-mannered birds can scratch or peck when
2. If the bird has no fluffy down feathers on it
(meaning it's mature), take it to a uncrowded beach in the daytime,
preferably with an offshore wind. Set the bird in the sand, step back and
wait. Sometimes, it takes 30 minutes or more for the bird to get the idea
and fly off.
3. If the bird is still downy or doesn't fly away, take
it to Sea Life Park before 5 p.m.
4. If you can't drive out there, call state Biologist
Dave Smith at 973-9786. Someone will try to come for the bird.
5. The Hawaiian Humane Society (946-2187) also picks up
If you keep the bird overnight while awaiting pickup,
don't try to give it food or water. Just let it rest in a cozy,
And if by chance you hear moaning in the night, check
the bird before dialing 911.