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January 5, 2006

Winter storms blow rare birds ashore

Red phalaropes successfully rehabilitated after rescue from Northern CA beaches

Cordelia, CA

Red phalaropes feeding photo

Red phalaropes feed on meal worms after being taken to IBRRC's bird center in Cordelia, CA. (Photos: Marie Travers/IBRRC)

T housands of red phalaropes, rarely seen on land except when breeding in the Arctic, landed on the coast of Northern California in late December. Most were weak and starving, looking for food in marshes, creeks, and even backyards. The small birds were probably forced in by strong westerly winds that came with a series of powerful storms that hit Northern California the last part of December, 2005. Groups of up to 1,200 birds were reported seeking refuge along the coast.

International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) in Cordelia, CA (Solano County) cared for 90 red phalaropes and achieved great success rehabilitating them. Only eight of the birds died. Most of the birds were rescued from beaches by IBRRC staff.

Weak and starving, the birds were immediately hydrated and warmed in warm water therapy pools, then fed meal worms and krill. They ate voraciously and quickly gained weight and strength. After intensive care, the birds continue rehabilitation in specially designed cold water pools with overflow to keep their feathers perfectly clean and oil free.

Red phalarope close photo

Red phalarope

Twenty one phalaropes were deemed ready for release on January 5, 2006. The others will be released when they achieve normal weight and are waterproof. The birds are banded with numbered USFWS metal bands before release.

The red phalarope is a small bird rarely seen on land other than during spring when they migrate to Alaska to raise their young. Experts surmise the birds were suffering from a lack of food in the mid-ocean locales they frequent, either due to warmer ocean temperatures or the simple fact that the storms have churned the seas, making food scarce.

The birds feed by spinning the surface of the water with their lobed feet. For most of the year, phalaropes live at sea, principally off the coasts of southern South America and Africa. Red phalaropes are occasionally seen in the Bay Area during particularly harsh winters, but never before in numbers like these.

Also see:

SF Chronicle story, January 6, 2006: Sick seabirds set right after straying ashore

More information on red phalaralopes

IBRRC has been helping birds around the world since 1971. Its mission is to mitigate human impact on aquatic birds and other wildlife. This is achieved through rehabilitation, emergency response, education, research, planning and training.

Media contact:

Public Affairs Director

(831) 622-7588

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