Tag Archives: wedge-tailed shearwater

Help wedgies by turning lights off near shorelines

Published November 5, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott
Wedgies, or wedge-tailed shearwaters, have haunting nighttime mating calls that can sound like groans or screeches. Courtesy Alex Wegmann

Wedgies, or wedge-tailed shearwaters, have haunting nighttime mating calls that can sound like groans or screeches. Courtesy Alex Wegmann

Honu is still inside the Great Barrier Reef, but because we’re on the move and near neither reef, islands nor mainland, the sailing feels a bit like Hawaii. Except we miss the wedgies.

“Wedgie” is the nickname of the wedge-tailed shearwater, the graceful seabird that soars over open ocean waves, nearly touching wings to water.

The windier and wavier the better for these 12-inch-long birds with 2-foot-wide wingspans. In rough weather, wedgies zip through the air-water interface like feathered hovercraft.

I have loved these gray-backed, white-bellied seabirds from the first time I heard them moaning at Tern Island in Hawaii’s Northwestern chain. Their nighttime mating calls ranged from dying groans to tortured screeches, often so humanlike it sounded like we were hosting a wartime field hospital under the house.

But those agonized sounds come from the most charming of birds. Besides their bills forming a permanent smile, wedgies are gentle creatures, perhaps delivering a small peck in fear but quickly settling down in workers’ hands during rescues and ID banding.

Around the Hawaiian Islands, wedgies form what anglers call bird piles, feeding frenzies that occur when large fish chase small fish to the surface. Pity the little fish. In leaping free of tuna teeth, the fish winds up in the belly of a bird.

Anglers look for bird piles to know where to fish.

Bird piles often occur here inside GBR waters, but the ones we’ve seen consist of beefy crested terns, black and white birds that are always having a bad hair day.

Some of Australia’s GBR islands host wedgie colonies, but breeding time here is opposite Hawaii’s. Here the mated-for-life couples are just starting the work of digging a nest, brooding the egg and raising their one chick.

In Hawaii wedgie parents are done parenting for the year. For most of this month, their chicks will be flying from their burrow homes at Kaena Point, Black Point and several islands off Oahu. The lucky ones make it to the ocean on their maiden flights.

The unlucky will get disoriented by lights, hit wires and poles and end up on doorsteps, sidewalks and roads.

The good news is that often the downed youngsters are just stunned and can be saved.

You can help Hawaii’s wedgies by keeping near-shore lanai, garden and garage lights off through November. If you find a stunned fledgling, put it in a covered, ventilated shoe box (they grow up in holes so are calm there) and take it to Sea Life Park. Or contact official wedgie helpers at hawaiiwildlifecenter.org/seabird-fallout-response.html or oahuseabirdgroup.org/how-you-can-help.

Cyclones present obstacles to the Pacific golden plover

Published September 7, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2015 Susan Scott

An adult wedge-tailed shearwater. Courtesy Alex Wegmann

An adult wedge-tailed shearwater. Courtesy Alex Wegmann

We humans feel the effects of these storms in sweat, mosquito bites and high electrical bills. But what effect do cyclonic winds and torrents of rain have on migrating kolea? Some readers have been wondering via email how, and if, the birds flying from Alaska to Hawaii manage.

According to plover researcher Wally Johnson, the year-to-year differences in the survival rates of Hawaii’s Pacific golden plovers are probably due to weather. Severe winds during migration probably cause some mortality.

But never underestimate these extraordinary birds. In spite of storms, Arctic predators and enormous expanses to navigate, the survival rate of kolea is high.

“We know the birds have the capacity to fly for very long distances,” Johnson said in email. If blown off course, he continued, “they likely can re-orient and get back on target. We see lots of zigs and zags in our geolocator tracks and these must be wind-related.”

So for those still waiting for their feathered friend to return, there’s hope. And if an adult bird doesn’t make it back, natural selection might fill the vacancy. An empty territory is a bonanza for summer offspring that survived the flight to Hawaii and are now searching for food.

Another reader emailed that he recently hiked to Kaena Point to see wedge-tailed shearwaters (nickname: wedgies) but saw only some downy feathers and an unhatched egg. Because he saw rat traps, and concrete poured along the base of the fencing, he wondered whether predators were getting in.

Wedgie researcher Michelle Hester replied to my question, “The predator fence is working. Low trapping efforts will always be necessary inside the fence, as the ocean edges are open to critters..

The best time to see wedgies is July to November at dusk, when adults fly to the colony. Chicks begin fledging around Thanksgiving. Chicks aren’t usually visible because they wait deep inside their burrows for their parents to deliver food. But there are so many wedgies at Kaena that some parents nest under bushes or in burrows with skylights. You might see these chicks at any time..

After Thanksgiving the chicks wander around, giving admirers a good look at these native treasures. People from the mainland often say that Hawaii has no seasons. Tell that to the birds.


Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott

 

Human light sources can confuse fledgling seabirds

Published November 11, 2013 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2013 Susan Scott

A stranded wedge-tailed shearwater is kept safe and comfortable wrapped in a towel. ©2013 Susan Scott

This is the time of year to watch for wedgies, otherwise known as wedge-tailed shearwaters. If you rescue a wedgie, prepare to fall in love. These 16-inch-long seabirds have a natural smile on their beaks, velvet-smooth feathers, and after crash-landing, the exhausted and confused fledglings have a docile demeanor that seems to say, “Help me, please.”

Wedge-tailed shearwaters, also called uau kani, are ground-nesters. In spring, adults return from the ocean, where they’ve spent the winter gliding over the surface — “shearing” the water — searching for juvenile goatfish, flying fish, squirrelfish and squid.

Like most of Hawaii’s seabirds, wedgies mate for life. After a couple reunites on land in spring, often with haunted-house-style moaning, the two get busy digging a burrow and raising a chick. Now, in November and December, the fledglings emerge from their burrows and fly away to sea.

Or not. Because the birds find the ocean by moonlight on the water, city lights cause some to fly the wrong way, where they hit houses, utility poles and cars.

The largest number of chicks crash in areas where human lights are brightest, such as in sports fields and near all-night stores and eateries glowing along our shores.

Some birds die, but others are only stunned and can survive if given a helping hand. If you find one of these downed birds alive, here’s what to do:

» This time of year, keep a clean towel or T-shirt and a ventilated cardboard box or pet carrier in your car.

» Using the fabric, gently pick up the bird from behind. Wrap the cloth loosely around its body and wings. Place the bird in the box in a quiet and cool location. Don’t feed, give water or try to release the bird yourself by throwing it in the air.

» Take your bird as soon as possible to Sea Life Park. After hours, there are outside boxes, checked each morning, in which to leave the bird.

» For researchers studying the light problem, leave a note with your wedgie reporting when and where you found the bird such as an address, cross street, utility pole number or mile marker.

OTHER WAYS TO HELP

» Turn off outdoor lights in November and December, especially if you live near the coast. If you have a necessary light, shield it so it only shines down.

» Volunteer at Sea Life Park to help care for the rescued birds. Email Christina Leos at cleos@sealifepark­hawaii.com for an application.


Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2013 Susan Scott