Birds who spend all or part of their time in saltwater are often referred to as seabirds. With hundreds of miles of coastline bordering Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean, Washington State is a year-round home to many species of seabirds, and a winter home to many more. With the sheer number of birds present along our coast, it is no surprise that seabirds are regular patients at the PAWS Wildlife Center.
Common seabird species we receive at PAWS include the Common Murre, Common Loon, Red-throated Loon, Northern Fulmar, Rhinoceros Auklet, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Glaucous-winged Gull, Brandt's Cormorant, Western Grebe and Western Gull. These and other seabird populations are monitored closely by the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST).
PAWS receives large numbers of seabirds most often in the fall and winter when coastal storms churn up oceanic waters and cause "seabird strandings." Many species migrate to the coast from inland lakes in the fall. They form large feeding flocks that are highly susceptible to local storms or other disturbances.
During strandings, hundreds of seabirds can wash ashore, their feathers so soiled that they are unable to return to the frigid waters to feed without fear of drowning or hypothermia. There are many confirmed and suspected causes for these strandings, including rough winter storms, algae blooms, over-fishing, and various diseases.
Difficulty on land
Aside from gulls and cormorants, most seabirds have extreme difficulty walking on land. Their anatomy is specialized for swimming with their legs situated far back on their bodies. They can launch themselves forward, but are unable to stand for extended periods or walk more than a few steps at a time on land. Once seabirds become exhausted from being stranded, lose their ability to keep waterproof, and become hypothermic and sick, they cannot return to the water. They can only sit on the beach and starve or die of predation.
If you find a stranded seabird
If you encounter one or many seabirds stranded on a beach, please contact PAWS at 425.412.4040 immediately, or if you are outside of Washington State, find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator near you.
Do not take the bird to a veterinary clinic, shelter, or animal control facility. These agencies are usually not equipped or experienced in handling seabirds or other wild animals, and often do not have a license to do so. Rehabilitating seabirds properly requires a specialized facility and skilled wildlife rehabilitation personnel. Seabirds are sensitive creatures. There is a very short window of time in which rehabilitation and release to the wild can be successful.
PAWS also rehabilitates birds affected by large and small oil spills. If you find a bird you suspect has been affected by an oil spill or is covered in any type of oil, contact PAWS at 425.412.4040 immediately, or if you are outside of Washington State, find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator near you.
To report an oil spill in Washington State call the Emergency Management Division at 1.800.258.5990.