Flying off track in record numbers

Jeff Pawloski
Jeff Pawloski

By Teri Okita – bio | email

SEA LIFE PARK (HawaiiNewsNow) - Bright lights, big city. They're causing confusion for hundreds of birds on Oahu - and confusion leads to injury. Sea Life Park's rehab center is seeing a record number of birds that have simply lost their way.

These birds are a different species from the ones often heard about on Kauai. Those were bothered by stadium lights at football games and are called Newell shearwaters. The ones on Oahu are wedge-tailed shearwater birds.

Since Thanksgiving, 900 fledglings that are about two months old - many malnourished and dehydrated - have arrived at Sea Life Park. That's more than double the number the park saw last year and more than triple the number from two years ago.

"Since they're nocturnal feeders and mostly nocturnal in their behavior, they go out at night," says park curator, Jeff Pawloski. "And what happens is: when they go up in the air and start flying, they get distracted by street lights and house lights and car lights."

Many fly towards Waimanalo from their huge nesting colony on nearby Rabbit island, but they've been found as far away as Kahala and the North Shore. The lights throw off their navigation.

Pawloski says, "Suddenly, they get off track when normally, they'd be looking at the stars and the moon.

They follow these artificial lights and get off track and maybe overextend their flight. And now, suddenly they've landed in your yard or in the street."

At Sea Life Park's bird rehabilitation facility, the staff has been working overtime to water, feed, and care for the injured. Experts believe the problem stems from a successful mating season and more fledglings spreading their wings.

When they're finally ready to fly the rehab coop, staffmembers release them back into the wild. On Tuesday afternoon, 16 birds appeared ready for flight.

"All right, little buddy," says seabird rehabilitator, Uriah Rawlings, as he checks the band numbers on the birds.

Many of the releases were successful, but some were not. On this day, 11 flew home. Five will have to be cared for a little while longer.

The turnaround for the birds is short - maybe five days of rehab at the most. In the end, the reward - is to see these young birds fly free.

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