Arctic bird recovers after crash-landing in Stamford street

Arctic bird recovers after crash-landing in Stamford street
By Ryan Jockers - Dec 13, 2005
WESTON -- An Arctic bird found injured in Stamford is recuperating at a wildlife rehabilitation center on the border of the 1,700-acre Devil's Den Preserve.

The bird, a thick-billed murre, looks a bit like a little penguin, with striking black and white plumage, short legs and webbed feet.

The species largely resides in waters off northern Canada and Greenland, coming ashore only to breed. In winter, it migrates south, generally not farther than New Jersey, and stays out at sea.

It was odd that the bird being nursed at Wildlife in Crisis, a nonprofit organization, crash-landed on a busy street near downtown Stamford on Dec. 5.

"It's a very rare bird to show up in the area," said Meredith Sampson, a wildlife rehabilitator in Greenwich.

Occasionally, birds that are hardly -- if ever -- seen in lower Fairfield County are spotted this time of year.

A barnacle goose, which generally winters in northern Europe, was recently seen in Newtown, and in previous years, around the time of the Audubon's annual Christmas Bird Count, two purple gallinules -- aquatic birds that winter on the Gulf Coast -- were found in the area.

"Invariably, we get vagrants," Sampson said. "Who knows why they show up if it's not weather-related? I don't think enough is known about how birds migrate. There could be something wrong with their internal compass."

One of the two purple gallinules -- found in the Rowayton section of Norwalk and Greenwich -- and a Northern gannet, a large gull-like bird that winters at sea south of Virginia, were both so sick they could not be nursed back to health.

However, they did find new life at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, which freezes dead rare birds and, when funding permits, sends them to a taxidermist to be mounted and displayed among its collection.

The second purple gallinule, found in Westchester County, N.Y., accompanied a Greenwich Audubon employee on a plane to Florida, where it was released into a more-natural winter habitat.

Sampson said hurricanes and tropical storms moving north sometimes intercept a bird migrating south and blows it off course.

The thick-billed murre recuperating in Weston presumably mistook a rain-slicked street for a body of water, and injured itself in the act of landing, said Dara Reid, director of Wildlife in Crisis. A motorist noticed the bird and took it to Audubon Greenwich, which transferred it to Wildlife in Crisis.

"He had a pretty big gash on his head, and he was woozy for the first couple of days," Reid said. "He was also quite thin, but he's eating well."

It was unusual for the pelagic bird, which dives into the water to catch fish, to have been found on land, she said.

Wildlife in Crisis is located on 10 acres of woodland at the top of a hill at the end of a cul-de-sac. On the property are a variety of cages, large and small, indoors and outdoors. Currently, the all-volunteer organization is caring for owls, hawks, a turkey vulture -- most of the large birds are injured in automobile accidents -- a robin with a bent beak, a blind blue jay, and others.

The goal is to rehabilitate the birds and release them into their natural environment.

For the thick-billed murre, the primary treatment prescribed has been rest. The bird, which is about a foot in length and weighs less than 2 pounds, received antibiotics to reduce brain swelling, and it has been eating shiners, a bait fish, fortified with vitamins.

"As with anything with these birds, it's just rest," Reid said. "They need heat, rest and fluids."

The murre probably will be released in about a week. Reid said she is scouting locations, and considering Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, where she said she had seen the species once before.