High winds pushing travelling petrels off course into Newfoundland towns, says rescue group

Recovered petrels are stored in dark boxes with holes in them so they aren’t disturbed. More of the birds are being sent off course to urban areas like St. John’s and Mount Pearl because of light pollution and high winds. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

October’s windy weather is pushing storm petrels further inland than usual, leading to thousands being rescued in some unexpected places.

According to Karen Brown-Gosse of Rock Wildlife Rescue, a combination of onshore light pollution and strong sustained gusts is sending more fledgling petrels into areas like St. John’s, Mount Pearl and even as far inland as Clarenville.

“This year, there seems to be a lot more in the inner city area,” Brown-Gosse said Tuesday. “The Village Mall was a big one…we had people report they were out standing by the mall and just hearing them hit the side of the mall. The lights are there, it’s a high building.”

Birds have also been reported at Mile One Centre and the St. John’s Port Authority, as well as in large numbers in South Dildo and Bay de Verde. Volunteers rescued about 2,000 birds last weekend alone, according to Brown-Gosse.

She said it’s common to see petrels this time of year as the birds leave their nests on Baccalieu Island. And while there seem to be more birds in need of rescue this year than usual, it’s an encouraging sign for a species that has had its population dwindle in recent years.

“When you have a colony that large, only in one area … if something goes wrong, then we’re going to lose them. So we do our best to protect them,” she said.

Rachel Artuso and her husband found a petrel in Petty Harbour on Tuesday and took it to the rescue centre. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Rachel Artuso and her husband found a petrel in Petty Harbour while walking their dog Monday, and took it to the rescue centre so it could be tended to and released back into the wild.

“I think he’ll need a little bit of help, just ’cause we did find him in the middle of the road,” she said.

“It’s actually wonderful, and I’m really happy there are resources, because unfortunately there are a lot of seabirds that aren’t able to get the help they need.”

Brown-Gosse called helping the petrels a “community effort” and said the group has seen more children and families helping to find the lost birds.

“Everything plays a role, so educating the next generation [is key]. If they don’t care, they won’t protect it. So I think it’s our job to make sure that they do,” she said.

Volunteer Sherry Stamp said the effort has been heartwarming, adding most petrels will need help to survive if they end up on land.

“Once they’re landed, they’re done, unless somebody can rescue them and release them back into the ocean. They tend to die right where they are,” Stamp said.

The group releases collected birds at night, and is averaging around 12 to 15 releases per evening.

Karen Brown-Gosse, owner and director of Rock Wildlife Rescue in Torbay, says the group is seeing lost storm petrels end up far more inland than in previous years. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

Brown-Gosse said storm petrels are often defined by dark feathers, as well as their webbed feet and tubed noses. If someone finds a petrel, she said, it’s important to keep the nocturnal bird in a dark box with holes to help it stay calm.

Though the birds may appear injured on the ground, she said, petrels are known for flapping or shaking in fear in front of humans. It’s OK to pick up petrels, but handling them with gloves is always a good idea, Brown-Gosse added.

To prevent the petrels from getting lost, Brown-Gosse said, turning off any necessary lights is a good first step.

“These birds aren’t blowing in during the day. They’re coming in at night because they’re nocturnal. So if we can minimize that light pollution as much as we can in … places we know the storm petrel are more likely to frequent, that will go a long way.”

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