By Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter
Winter isn’t typically a busy time for bird-watching on the Kenai Peninsula, but unusual sightings have put birdwatchers on alert. Common murres are making uncommon appearances around Alaska. The seabirds are showing up inland and in poor condition.
“I got three over the weekend, spread throughout the Beaver Loop area, all at different houses, all thin and not very strong. I lost one, but I’m feeding the other two, trying to get them stronger,” said Marianne Clark, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
The medium-size birds with black heads and backs and white bellies, look like a cross between a loon and a penguin. They have long, thin beaks for feeding on fish in the saltwater where they typically spend their winters. But this year, they’re showing up inland.
“We don’t know a lot at this point, just that there is an influx of them coming in. We took in 20 from Oct. 31 through Nov. 12,” said Katie Middlebrook, an avian rehabilitation coordinator at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage.
“Most have come in from Anchorage, Wasilla, Palmer, even one as far as Talkeetna — strange places for murres. You’d usually see them washing ashore in Homer and Seward,” Middlebrook added.
And they have there, as well.
“The Alaska SeaLife Center has received about 25 common murres over the past two weeks, all from the local Seward area. Most of the birds have been found inland, which is not where you would expect to find this type of seabird,” said Tara Riemer, president and CEO of the Alaska SeaLife Center.
Riemer said that the birds have been thin but alert, so after feeding and rehabbing them back to full strength, the center has released several of the birds in appropriate waters nearby.
“We have been doing a brief exam on the birds, but no necropsies. Some of the birds have been screened for avian influenza, but laboratory results will not be available for some time,” she said.
Riemer said that murre numbers are still high.
“Even so, we are keeping in touch with regional and national U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey staff to share observations,” she said.