The existence of migrating and offshore seabirds can be unbelievably arduous even before a hurricane blows their lives sideways. In the wake of Hurricane Fiona, the Hope For Wildlife rehabilitation centre in Seaforth, N.S. has admitted 150 birds that were whisked in from the tropics, knocked out of the sky, and left exhausted by 125-km/h winds. Director Hope Swinimer, who stars in Cottage Life TV’s Hope For Wildlife, says this is three times the usual for this time of year. Her team is coping with the onslaught of avian patients while dealing with its own challenges of power outages and dozens of downed trees.
“It’s been quite the hodgepodge of birds,” Swinimer says. “There have been a couple of tropical birds from as far away as Bermuda, another 40 or so seabirds like shearwaters, petrels, and gulls that are normally way offshore, and the rest are songbirds, woodpeckers, doves, finches, and others.”
Surviving a big storm like Fiona is exhausting for birds, Swinimer explains. “They’re blown around, their habitat is damaged, or they bang into windows or doors. They end up on the ground, where they can be harassed by cats, dogs and people.”
In many cases, pooped out birds are “just looking for rest,” she adds, “they need time and space.”
But some of Swinimer’s post-Fiona patients arrived in far worse shape. “The tropical birds arrived weighing 260 grams compared to their usual 400,” she says. “They look quite messed up. Their feathers have lost their waterproofing, they’re wet and damaged.”
Birds are weighed and assessed once admitted to Swinimer’s wildlife hospital. The next step in recovery is gradual rewarming and rehydration, often combined with time in an oxygen chamber. “You have to resist the urge to feed them first,” Swinimer explains. “That’s the worst thing you can do to a bird that’s cold and dehydrated.”
Most birds are ready to accept some calories after 24 hours, and ready to be released in the wild shortly thereafter. Birds with broken bones require up to eight weeks of rehabilitation.“For a migratory bird this could mean they have to stay at our facility for the entire winter because they’ve missed the opportunity to migrate,” Swinimer notes.
Swinimer says she’s never been so proud of the 50 to 60 “interns, volunteers and paid people” working on the frontlines. “It’s been all hands on deck,” she says. “We’ve been working with no hot showers and cold meals. We’re all here for the same reasons and we love what we do. I’m so thankful for everyone who has helped out.”