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Oct 1, 2019 11:09 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Mysterious Respiratory Disease Showing Up More Frequently In Shore Birds At Rescue Center

Two Mute Swans awaiting treatment. RACHEL VALDESPINO
Oct 4, 2019 5:14 PM

Over the past six months, the staff of the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays has been perplexed to see a rash of sick gulls and other shore birds brought into the facility.

There is a mysterious respiratory disease spreading through the local population of shore birds — and the rescue workers at the center aren’t sure what has been causing it.

“Most are juvenile, and people often find them on the beach open-mouth breathing and gurgling,” said Adrienne Gillespie, a wildlife rehabilitation specialist. “We’ve had a huge influx of great black-back gulls and herring gulls.”

While the center treated a large number of birds during the summer, fewer sick gulls have been brought in lately. “Our daily intake of these birds has gone down since the height of summer, but we were getting around five gulls a day around that time,” Ms. Gillespie said. “On Labor Day, we took in 18 animals — and six of them were gulls.”

The rescue center has seen an increase in the different types of ill shore birds for a few years now. Sick gulls were prevalent this summer. In the past, gannets, dove keys, shearwaters and cormorants were the birds of focus.

The center is committed to helping the birds, even though they are not the typical kind of animals people think of as being rescued. “I don’t think people are interested — they treat them as rats with wings, and they’re not a protected bird, so they don’t receive as much care,” Ms. Gillespie said of gulls. “They’re so intelligent. One of our education animals, Griswold, is a gull.”

Griswold came to the rescue center as a juvenile who couldn’t fly. He has a foot issue, and now he’s tamed and follows everyone around the center. He’s taken to schools and helps out when classes visit the center.

The gulls are given antibiotics and are segregated from other birds. Most make a full recovery, but about one out of 10 gulls don’t respond to treatment. Overall, the gulls are in the center’s care for at least eight weeks to receive treatment.

If an animal can’t make a full recovery, it may become a permanent resident and stay at the rescue facility. “We’re very careful about who becomes a permanent resident, because we want to release them back into their habitat,” said Ms. Gillespie. “If they don’t have any survival skills, we can’t release them safely.”

The rescue center provides the best care possible for the animals that they take in, she said.

“We first diagnose and treat the animal. In this case, it would be for a respiratory infection. And after they are able to eat on their own, they are transferred to our outside kennels,” Ms. Gillespie explained. “If they make a full recovery, then we release them, which is what we all hope for.”

“We truly focus on the rehabilitation of the animals here,” Executive Director Ginnie Frati said. “We then hope for safe release. We really want as many to be back in the wild as possible.”

Since 1997, the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center has been providing urgent care and rehabilitation for a variety of birds and mammals throughout Southampton Town.

Staff members have nine educational animals that travel with educators around the island. The center also sends birds that can’t make a full recovery to sanctuaries all over the country, as an alternative to staying at the center.

The center office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and any urgent wildlife concerns can be addressed via a hotline at 631-728-9453.

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Could they possibly be vaping??
By wrk (20), East Hampton on Oct 4, 19 10:51 AM
3 members liked this comment
Good one!!!
By Fred s (3321), Southampton on Oct 4, 19 11:14 AM
Gulls are protected birds. Only House Sparrows and European Starlings aren't protected in the U.S.
By Susan B (1), Sag Harbor on Oct 6, 19 6:25 AM