Seabird Wreck

As many of you will be aware from the news and from sightings posted here the winter storms have taken their toll on many wintering seabirds, especially auks. The RSPB have received reports of a minimum of 174 casualties in Devon including 98 Guillemot, 48 Razorbill, 4 Puffin and singles of Kittiwake, Shag, Great Skua and Manx Shearwater.

Birds have been reported from both coasts with the largest numbers from Saunton Sands, Wembury and Seaton. The Puffins were from Sidmouth, Seaton, Wembury and South Milton.

Around the SW over 800 birds have been reported wrecked, of these around 15% have been oiled, the majority of birds have simply been exhausted trying to ride out the storms.This is a conservative estimate.  No doubt there will have been many more but not found or reported. 

Away from the SW numbers have been much higher with 2-300+ auks reported from individual beaches in south Wales and over the Channel 15,000 dead on French beaches, 11,000 of which are Puffin.

It is thought Puffin have been particularly affected because they dive mostly in the upper 30m of the sea so the extreme turbulence/turbidity due to the storms will have serious hampered their ability to feed. Another possible factor is the later moult of Puffin compared to other auks, many may well have dropped all their primaries and been flightless as the storms rolled in.

To help investigate this if you do come across a dead Puffin if you could to take photos of the head and, if practicable, the wings of beached birds to see if their primaries are still growing that would useful data.

If anyone has been out to Berry Head or other seabird colonies it would be interesting to know if the numbers on the cliffs have been affected yet. Counts this summer may also shed some light on any longer term impacts.

For advice on what to do if you find a seabird washed up in Devon please see here