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Feb 2, 2010 6:21 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Wildlife Rescue Center rehabilitates unprecedented number of dovekies

Editor's Note: UPDATE: Two dovekies were released Wednesday morning. They were the only ones to survive out of a total of eight birds that were brought to the Wildlife Rescue Center. Ms. Frati said a wildlife rescue in Riverhead took in seven dovekies and two survived and were released, and a rehabilitator in Bay Shore took in two and both died. Dovekies are very susceptible to stress, more so than other ocean birds, Ms. Frati noted. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will be collecting the deceased dovekies to perform necropsies to see what factors exacerbated their stranding and deaths, Ms. Frati said.
Feb 2, 2010 6:21 PM

Five ocean birds that humans rarely get to see were stranded on the South Shore of Long Island during a storm on Monday, January 25, and are recovering at the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons in Hampton Bays.

The pelagic birds, called dovekies, look like little penguins and they should be about 40 miles offshore right now in the Gulf Stream with their flock. But the rain and strong winds on January 25 landed them on Long Island with no hope of survival—that is, until they were found in distress by humans who brought them to veterinary hospitals or straight to the rescue center.

“If these nice rescuers and people hadn’t noticed them, they would have just died there,” Wildlife Rescue Center Executive Director Virginia Frati said. “They were extremely hypothermic ... when they came in, so they just couldn’t have recovered from that on their own.”

In fact, seven stranded birds were recovered on Monday and Tuesday, but one died shortly after arriving at the rescue center on Monday and another died that night. One of the birds that later died was found in Wainscott and the other was found in Center Moriches. The remaining five were found in Shirley, Quogue, Speonk, Manorville and Mastic Beach.

“They are very difficult to rehabilitate,” Ms. Frati said. “They are a pelagic bird, which means they spend all their time out in the ocean. They never come up to the shore unless they’re in trouble for some reason, and they’re not used to people and they get stressed out very easy; they lose their waterproofing very quickly. They’re marine birds and just require a very specialized type of rehabilitation.”

Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons wildlife rehabilitator Ryan Ortiz attributed the birds losing their way to recent severe weather. “If there’s a big storm like we just had, they get blown off course,” he said. “And if they hit the rough waves, they can’t handle it and they get beached. So people will find them as they are walking along the beach, tired, worn out, possibly a little bit thinned, dehydrated. We have to recondition them, make sure they’re waterproof and then release them.”

“If they’re not 100-percent healthy, they don’t preen, and if they don’t preen, they don’t maintain their waterproofing,” Ms. Frati explained.

The birds lose their waterproofing when they get dirt or other contaminants in their feathers, Mr. Ortiz said. “They should look dry while they’re in the water, and the water should bead up on their backs,” he added.

The rescue center has also been feeding live goldfish to the birds, which range from 100 to 120 grams. The dovekies are a little bit underweight, Mr. Ortiz said.

The birds, which are kept in a bathtub, surface dive for the goldfish and strike them with their beaks to kill or paralyze the fish before eating them whole.

Mr. Ortiz said it is hard to get dovekies in captivity to eat frozen fish, so live fish is the best option for feeding them.

The staff at the Wildlife Rescue Center minimizes animals’ contact with humans while they are under care, so they retain their natural instincts and can reintegrate into the wild, according to Mr. Ortiz.

Ms. Frati said the rescue center usually takes in only a couple dovekies a year, and to get seven in less than a 24-hour period is unprecedented. Including three dovekies that were rescued a month ago, this is the most dovekies the rescue center has seen in one year, she reported.

Since the dovekies never land on Long Island unless they are in duress, it is safe for someone who spots a dovekie to assume it needs help, Ms. Frati said.

The best way to pick up a wild bird, Mr. Ortiz said, is to gently throw a towel over it’s head and wings, scoop it up with its wings tucked next to its body, and put it in a box.

“That’s safe for the bird and safe for the person,” he said.

The dovekies will likely be released by the Shinnecock Inlet, according to Ms. Frati.

“All they have to do is fly up a few feet,” she said. “They can see the whole coastline and get their bearings very, very quickly.”

The Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons is a not-for-profit located at Munn’s Pond County Park on Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays. It has a $450,000 annual budget, which is entirely funded through private donations. It has six full-time employees, a few part timers in the summer, and a network of volunteers throughout the East End.

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Thanks for helping them WRC. I'll make it a point to send in a contribution.I've brought several animals to them.
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Jan 27, 10 10:04 PM
donating now - they rock
By quioguebirder (11), on Jan 28, 10 2:55 PM
These folks are awesome. I've called them to rescue animals & have brought critters to them, including a bat once. A big thank you to Virginia & company and to everyone who takes the time to try to help an animal in need.
By Ms. Jane Q. Public (147), Southampton on Jan 29, 10 9:24 AM
Keep up the good work!
By saggguy (12), SAGAPONACK on Feb 1, 10 9:23 AM
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