Climate change blamed for high muttonbird death toll

EXHAUSTED: Dead muttonbirds washed up near Coffs Harbour.
EXHAUSTED: Dead muttonbirds washed up near Coffs Harbour. TREVOR VEALE

AUSTRALIAN Seabird Rescue boss Rochelle Ferris has blamed climate change for what a high death toll among migrating muttonbirds.

Ms Ferris said this year had been the worst in recent memory for muttonbirds dropping from the sky and washing up on beaches in the region.

"We see it in varying degrees each year, but this year is particularly bad and it's absolutely part of the climate changing as worsening storm cells are having an effect on the birds' migration," Mrs Ferris said.

Thousands of Tasmanian muttonbirds, also known as shearwaters, wash up on our shores each year after failing to make their 15,000km migration from Bass Strait to the Bering Sea between Russia and Alaska and back to Australia's east coast.

This migration sees the birds travel through heavy storm cells in the China Sea.

With natural weather events worsening each year, the weaker birds become exhausted and are unable to make the journey back to Bass Strait after copping a beating in the bad weather or having to fly further around the storm to get back on course.

However, Mrs Ferris said the birds we saw dead on the coast were a very small percentage of the overall population.

"This happens every year," Mrs Ferris said.

"The journey is so long that many become exhausted and their bodies just shut down."

Australian Sea Bird Rescue advised those who came across dying muttonbirds to leave them alone to die peacefully or move them from tide lines into the dunes.

Those who feel "passionately inclined to help" are advised to take the bird home and put it in a dark box and see if it survives the night.

"Although invariably we've seen 99 times out of 100 the birds don't survive," Mrs Ferris said.

"Something to remember is that the fallen birds provide food resources to other native animals that live on the beach."

The Tasmanian muttonbird can live to 38 years and are one of the most common species of bird in the world, with the population estimated to be in excess of 18 million.

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