January 18, 2013

In the Spotlight - Recent case study: Role of public reports in Dovekie strandings on Long Island, Suffolk County, New York – December 2012

The Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center, http://www.wildliferescuecenter.org, a full-time wildlife hospital located in Hampton Bays, New York, began receiving calls from the public admitting dovekie cases in early December. The birds recovered were found scattered across Long Island, New York, in Suffolk County (see map created with WHER GeoRSS feed from NY). Historically, the Rescue Center tends to receive a few of these birds in December/January after harsh weather conditions, although a small number have also been oiled. A total of four birds were admitted in 2011, ten in 2010, and three in 2009.

Dovekie recovering at Rescue Center.
Dr. Bethany Rottner, a veterinarian with the Rescue Center, described what the clinic was seeing recently. “In 2012, we admitted 22 dovekies (19 birds in December) which seem to be a significant rise overall in number. A few local veterinary clinics also received dovekies, but these were typically euthanized with severe traumatic injuries and not transferred to us. Another rehabilitator on Long Island was also receiving birds.” The number of reports of injured and dead dovekies raised enough concern that a local news station picked up the story.

Dr. Rottner described the condition of the birds that were received, “While a number of our cases were found beached on the shoreline, many were found inland in parking lots, fields, or yards. Traumatic wounds, specifically tibiotarsal/tarsometatarsal fractures were very common, as was neurological dysfunction of the legs. We imagine that these occurred after birds made harsh or difficult landings on the ground. For those that were found on the beach, trauma may have been from the pounding surf. Bite wounds and lacerations were also not uncommon, as they possibly fell victim to gulls, cats, and dogs”.

Dovekie recovering at Rescue Center.
As cases began to pour in, their staff began to pay more attention to weather, noting in general that birds tended to appear after a night of heavy winds and rain. In the future, they plan to document adverse weather conditions in more detail to try to determine if there is a relationship between weather conditions and the increase reports of injured/dead aquatic birds, like the dovekie.

In general, aquatic birds are very challenging to rehabilitate, as they require special housing, feeding, and handling since they are so exquisitely adapted to life at sea and not land. Due to these animal care challenges, the Rescue Center was only able to rehabilitate and release one dovekie out of the many admitted in December.

Reaching Out to the Wildlife Health Community

Later in December the dovekie cases continued to arrive at the Rescue Center, so Dr. Rottner notified Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET), http://seanetters.wordpress.com, a citizen science program that conducts health surveys of beached birds and records information about bird mortality. As relayed by Dr. Rottner, “Sarah Courchesne, SEANET coordinator, recommended I report the cases to the Wildlife Health Event Reporter (WHER). Overall, SEANET felt our assessment appeared accurate that injuries were consistent with traumatic landings”. However, at this time, no one could say whether other factors were also involved in these cases.

Even though the exact cause of the strandings was not determined for this particular wildlife health event, these individual cases were recorded and made available to other wildlife organizations for reference through the Wildlife Health Event Reporter (WHER), http://www.wher.org.

As stated by Dr. Rottner, “Being able to add information to what we already know could enable us to prepare for new cases, better treat patients we have, and notify pertinent authorities or groups should we come across something new. In turn, we may be able to provide information or observations of our own to possibly assist someone else in their work. I believe there is more to be gained from reaching out and asking questions. However, it is difficult to know who to get in touch with, which is when an application like WHER can help.” It can work as a networking tool to connect professional groups, rehabilitators, and citizen science programs, which is vital to gaining a better understanding of wildlife health phenomena.

Sign Up! Get a WHER Account Today! 

An observation that you think is incidental, and sort of gross – the dead raccoon on the side of the road, sickly looking bird at the bird feeder, or the dead dovekie in the parking lot - is actually a very valuable piece of information, but only if you make it known by reporting it.

Let others know what kind of wildlife health events are happening in your community. Sign up for a WHER account today at http://www.whmn.org/wher/users/add and join the effort to spot possible health threats!

A special thanks to Dr. Bethany Rottner for sharing this story with us! 

The Wildlife Rescue
Center logo.
The Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons, Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to the rehabilitation of wild animals impacted by encroachment of humans on their habitat. It is a grass roots organization that grew from a few concerned friends to a group of over 1000 members and supporters. The center is a full-time professional wildlife hospital staffed by licensed rehabilitators, biologists, animal behaviorists and volunteers. For more information about this wildlife rehabilitation organization visit their website at http://www.wildliferescuecenter.org

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