IT’S A disturbing sight to see the Valley’s beaches littered with the bodies of dead or dying seabirds, but it’s a natural and annual occurrence during the migration of short-tailed shearwaters (or mutton birds).

Each year, the birds travel from the colder regions of the northern hemisphere to southern parts of Australia to nest.

The flight is long and arduous and only the fittest survive.

Ocean conditions along the flight path have a direct affect on the health and stamina of the birds on arrival, and every year there are thousands washed ashore on our beaches.

This year shearwaters have had to contend with severe storm conditions and treacherous winds and a larger number than usual are showing up on the shoreline, or in more condensed numbers.

“These birds have died from sheer exhaustion,” National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) public affairs officer Lawrence Orel told the Guardian.

“Though it is sad to see so many distressed and dying animals, this is a natural, annual phenomenon.

“On their return migration some just don’t survive, especially if they come across a storm event that pushes them over the edge of their energy quotient.

“Most tend to die at sea and we rarely we see this unfortunate part of the process. However when winds, currents and tides combine, we tend to see them wash up.”

Although the natural instinct is to tend to an injured animal, history has shown attempts at rehabilitation by even the most experienced wildlife carers are almost invariably futile.

“The reality is that even if a bird is found alive there is not a lot that can be done,” he said.

“A number of the birds in the Coffs area were assessed by a vet and were found to be extremely thin … it’s just part of the natural process.”

The short-tailed shearwater is regarded as one of the most common species of bird in the world with the population believed to be in excess of 18 million.

Beach walkers are asked to not make their suffering any worse by keeping dogs away from the stricken animals.

Some shearwaters have been banded for research purposes. Members of the public are asked to report any dead banded shearwaters to the National Parks and Wildlife Service office or contact the Australian Bird and Bat Banding scheme in Canberra:

Reader Bev Kirkby took this shot of Forster Beach at Scotts Head – littered with dead mutton birds – on Sunday

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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