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Monitoring a Shearwater Die-off in the Bahamas and How You Can Help

Birders in the Bahamas have noticed a curious uptick in the numbers of shearwaters, mostly Great Shearwaters, found washed up in the beaches of the island nation. While wrecked seabirds are not unusual anywhere there is a beach, particularly at a time of year when young birds are learning the hard way how to survive on the open ocean, Bahamas birders have been troubled by the seemingly unusual numbers involved this year. From the Rolling Harbour blog:

My first inkling that something unusual was occurring came a week ago from a [Facebook] post by Melissa Maura, whose wonderful parrot and flamingo photos feature elsewhere in these pages. She said “…on my rugged Abaco ocean beach last week, were many dead magnificent seabirds – greater shearwaters (about 5) and a couple of Frigate birds… They didn’t appear to wash in on the waves, but appeared to have perished perhaps from exhaustion on the beach”.  Various later comments suggested that this phenomenon had been noted periodically in the past, the last time 4 or 5 years ago…

Then a couple of days ago Jane Mantle emailed me with photos of some dead birds on the beach at Delphi saying that half- dead birds are washing up on the beach ‘only for the vultures to finish off’.  We must have over 20 with more to come”.

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Photo by Melissa Maura, via Rolling Harbour blog

What could have caused this unusual event is not clear. It could be a combination of inexperienced young birds heading to post-breeding feeding areas in the higher latitudes of the North Atlantic running afoul of some unfortunate doldrums that sapped their resources, or it could be something more nefarious. Pollution, perhaps, or an illness. Without a more thorough census of the scale of the event, it’s hard to say. That’s where birders can come in.

If you live along the Atlantic coast, particularly in the southeast, please check your beaches in the next week and photograph any wrecked Great Shearwaters, or any shearwater. Send those photographs and your location to lgape AT bnt.bs, and that info can be sent on to those who are monitoring this occurrence.

For more information, see the Rolling Harbour blog. Thanks for your help.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.