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July 23, 2008 
Photo of Kevin Mack.

Independence Day
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

On July 3, a small black and white bird sat alone in the parking lot of the Washington State surplus store in Auburn, WA. A fledgling, he was undoubtedly confused and perhaps a little tired. The bird was a member of a species that is not usually associated with parking lots and, due to loss of habitat and declining numbers, is certainly not associated with the word "surplus." He had most likely flown from a nest site in a patch of old growth forest miles to the east. His infancy and early childhood would have been spent in a mossy depression on the branch of an ancient tree, or perhaps on the mossy forest floor. His flight was to take him from the confines of his nest to the freedom of the open sea, but it had ended prematurely. He would have been flying at night on this first journey to the sea, and he may have mistaken the wet pavement of the parking lot for a body of water. Another possibility is that he was confused by the flashes and explosions of fireworks in the pre-Independence Day sky, or perhaps he was just too tired to continue flying. Whatever the case, there he sat—a threatened bird in a threatening situation. He was a juvenile Marbled Murrelet, and he was about to get a helping hand.

The murrelet's plight was noticed by a concerned citizen who scooped him up and placed him in a box. He was transported to PAWS and entered into the wildlife center database as case #08-1408. Upon admission, murrelet 08-1408 was found to be slightly thin, but injury-free. He was bright, alert and very feisty when handled. He was treated for slight dehydration, but did not require any medications or additional medical care. Since a murrelet's anatomy is better adapted to floating on water than sitting on dry land, the young bird was placed in a cage with a special net bottom that would help prevent him from developing foot abrasions and pressure sores. The next day he swam, possibly for the first time in his young life.

On July 4 the murrelet was placed in a large pool. The experience must have been somewhat overwhelming for him and possibly quite puzzling. With such a powerful instinctual drive to get to open saltwater, I'm certain that an 8-foot diameter pool felt very wrong to him. Unfortunately, due to our need to give him a thorough assessment, the murrelet would have to wait another 24 hours before his captivity would end. He spent the rest of that day swimming and periodically resting while being offered an all-he-could eat buffet of krill and fish.

The next morning, diagnostic blood work showed that the Marbled Murrelet was in excellent health. During his time in the pool he had demonstrated that he was a good swimmer and capable diver. As he may not have yet had to capture his own food up to that point in his life, one last test remained. After several live fish were placed in the murrelet's pool, he removed any doubts we may have had about his ability to feed himself. There was no reason to delay him any longer. It was time for him to embark on the last leg of his journey.

A short car ride brought the murrelet to the open saltwater he was seeking. As he was removed from his transport carrier his tiny body was completely covered by the hands that held him. He was gently placed into the waters of Puget Sound and he appeared to immediately recognize this place to which he had never been. He dove, disappearing beneath the water's surface for a full minute before resurfacing about 20 yards from shore. To my eyes he had become a different animal than he had been in the pool at PAWS Wildlife Center. His movements were more energetic and sure. There was no hesitancy or confusion to be seen. He continued to dive and resurface until he was a tiny speck on the water far offshore. I wished him well as I left him to enjoy his own personal Independence Day.

Photo of the Marbled Murrelet.
When he was not in the water, the Marbled Murrelet was housed in a cage with a soft net bottom.
Photo of the Marbled Murrelet.
After a short stay at the PAWS Wildlife Center, the Marbled Murrelet was given a clean bill of health.
Photo of the Marbled Murrelet.
The bird was released into Puget Sound and he swam confidently away.

PAWSwalk is coming and we need your help!
The 17th annual PAWSwalk fundraising event will take place on Saturday, September 6 at Seattle's Magnuson Park. The PAWS staff and volunteers have formed a team and set the ambitious goal of collectively raising $15,000. Whether you can donate $1 or $1,000 you can help bring us closer to this goal. Please make your donation today. You can help more animals celebrate their independence!


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