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Recovered Murrelet Released

A grounded marbled murrelet chick has taken wing thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Oregon Coast Aquarium (OCAq), Oregon State University’s Oregon Marbled Murrelet Project (OMMP), and the Wildlife Center of the North Coast (WCNC). The marbled murrelet has faced rapid population declines due to habitat loss and pollution, and is listed as threatened under both the Federal and State Endangered Species Act. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of volunteers and wildlife professionals, one of these vulnerable seabirds was successfully rehabilitated and released after it was found grounded on the forest floor.

Marbled murrelets range from Alaska to California, and spend much of their life adrift in the North Pacific, only coming inland to brood in coastal old-growth forests. “These birds really only leave the ocean to nest, so it is not normal for a murrelet to be on the beach or on the forest floor,” said Jonathan Dachenhaus, OMMP Faculty Research Assistant. “They need a lot of momentum to be able to fly, so it’s not likely that they will be able to fly on their own once grounded.”

The Oregon Marbled Murrelet Program was initiated by the Oregon State University College of Forestry, with the aim to learn more about space use and reproductive success of marbled murrelets in Oregon. The OMMP field research team was initially concerned when they observed an empty nest on a routine monitoring check in the Suislaw National Forest, but discovered the grounded chick nearby still alive and alert. The team examined the bird and transported it to OCAq.

The OMMP team transported the chick to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where it was given an intake exam and offered food. Aquarium aviculturists agreed that while the bird was in good condition, it would require additional care. The Aquarium often partners with other facilities to provide long-term care for vulnerable animals, and after the murrelet was cleared for transport, volunteers took the bird to the Wildlife Center of the North Coast, WCNC, located in Astoria, OR. Upon its arrival to WCNC, the chick underwent additional exams, weight and temperature checks, received fluids, and was housed in an incubator for warmth until its temperature stabilized.

The bird’s prognosis was bright: while an animal’s condition can change in a moment, the chick was full of life, and the WCNC team was optimistic. WCNC staff monitored the chick round the clock, and placed a small camera in its housing to observe the bird while minimizing its stress. Staff watched as the stout chick vigorously flapped its wings: a typical behavior for a healthy bird on the verge of fledging. Before the murrelet could be released, it needed to reach two vital milestones: it had to be able to feed itself, and it needed to be waterproof.

Volunteers transported the marbled murrelet back to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where the research vessel Gracie Lynn was already prepped and ready to go. The OMMP team put an identification band on the bird’s right leg and took a final weight: from discovery to release, the bird had gained 22 grams. The Gracie Lynn set out for the open ocean off of Yaquina Head–the water was calm and the sky clear and bright; the team soon spotted other marbled murrelets, their squat profiles bobbing along the waves. The vessel came to a halt, and the bird’s crate was opened. Dachenhaus cupped the bird in his hands. With a gentle upward lift, the bird soared: four weeks after its discovery at the base of its nest tree, the marbled murrelet reached the sea.

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