Mother Nature can present serious challenges for marine birds. As winter storms bombard the Washington coastline, tidewaters crash into the beaches, winds intensify and rain pelts the ocean waters. Many seabirds can endure stormy days on the waves, but younger or weaker birds can quickly find themselves stranded on ocean beaches, vulnerable to serious injury and even death. As the winter storm season approaches each year, PAWS prepares for the hundreds of seabirds who might need our life-saving help.
Many seabirds spend the majority of their lives in the water—hunting, courting, even sleeping on the waves. They have an intricate network of feathers that provide warmth and buoyancy, as well as legs positioned further back on their bodies, perfect for swimming. But this specialized skeletal structure makes it nearly impossible for them to maneuver on land. During intense storms, some birds find it so difficult to feed they quickly lose strength and are forced to take refuge along the shoreline.
Once beached, the birds’ feathers accumulate sand and debris, damaging the waterproofing and insulating properties that protect the bird from the harsh elements. As long as they remain on land, they are unable to forage, escape danger or properly preen to restore their waterproofing. Without help, many succumb to hypothermia, dehydration or starvation.