Starved, beached seabirds flood Fairfield rescue center

Bay City News
Tuesday, September 22, 2015

FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Hundreds of hungry and exhausted seabirds are continuing to flood a Fairfield bird rescue center because of rising sea temperatures, leaving the center strapped for resources and volunteers.

Over the last few weeks, more than 250 mostly young, starving common murre chicks have arrived at the International Bird Rescue's San Francisco Bay Center, according to the nonprofit's spokesman Russ Curtis.

"Most of them are starving," Curtis said. "Their weight is way down, their body temperatures are low, and they're mostly feather and bone, which is not good for a young bird that needs lots of calories."

About 10 to 12 common murres on average are being delivered daily to the center from all over Northern California, but predominantly from the Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and Marin areas. The number of birds being delivered to the rescue center daily is the number that usually comes over the entirety of a month, center officials said.

"The sheer number of birds we're seeing is pretty mind-blowing, especially for just one species," Curtis said. "This is unprecedented. Sometimes we get spikes and it dissipates. But it has not stopped."

The flood of incoming common murres have the Interational Bird Rescue center in Fairfield in "desperate" need of volunteers and donations because of the influx of new patients, Curtis said.

"Thanks to some generous donations we have been able to bring one additional pool online and two more will be completed this week," the center's executive director JD Bergeron said in a statement. "But the costs of care, feeding, medication, and additional staff time continue to add up."

One of the pools hosting rehabilitated common murres at the rescue center is available to view live online. The pools are specially built and six feet deep to accommodate the birds' diving nature, according to Curtis.

On Monday alone, 37 common murres were delivered to the rescue center, Curtis said.

According to Curtis, seabird scientists believe the cause of the high numbers of frail, beached murres is related to the water warming five to 10 degrees higher than normal for this time of year, causing fish to dive too deep for the young birds to reach. The birds, especially young ones, then become malnourished and wash up on beaches where they often die.

Hundreds of dead common murres have been spotted on the Northern California coast, Curtis said. Earlier this month on Rodeo Beach in Marin County, beach visitors counted 80 dead seabirds, most of which were common murres, he said.

"It's really troubling for a lot of folks. The public continues to contact us asking why they're seeing so many carcasses on the beach," he said.

Curtis asks those that come across weak seabirds still alive to use a blanket to scoop them up and transport them to one of the many wildlife rehabilitation centers available in the Bay Area.

"They have to get scooped up quickly," Curtis said. "They're diving birds and are not going to last on the beach."

The public can help support International Bird Rescue by symbolically adopting a murre at the center at or registering to volunteer on the rescue's website.

"We don't have any control over what happens with the fish stocks or the warming of the coast," Curtis said. "But if we can get the birds fed and medically able we're hoping to get these numbers down."