Sooty Tern Likely Thrown Off Course By Storm

sooty tern on bowl in cageThe following story was shared with us by Clinic For The Rehabilitation Of Wildlife (CROW) in Florida.

On August 26, 2020, a juvenile sooty tern was admitted to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) on Sanibel Island, Florida. It had been found stranded in St. James City, Florida. It was a very unusual bird to admit, because sooty terns are a pelagic species, spending their lives far out at sea and are rarely seen on land. The timing of its stranding coincided with some strong tropical storms going through the area, and it was suspected that it became thrown off course.

At presentation to CROW, this bird was severely emaciated, weighing 110 grams (about 3.9 ounces) and having a body condition score of 0.5/5. The patient was rehydrated by administering 10 percent body weight subcutaneous fluids.

Because emaciated animals require re-feeding plans, vet staff began small tube-feedings of EmerAid IC Piscivore formula. We started at 2 percent of the patient’s intake weight and gradually increased to 5 percent body weight. Blood work also revealed the patient was anemic with a low packed cell volume.

We administered iron and B-12 to help it replenish healthy red blood cells. Additionally, the tern was very weak and couldn’t stand consistently at intake. We had to put a cushion in its cage to avoid pressure sores on its keel.

After completing the initial re-feeding plan, we started offering whole smelt. Because offering smelt in a dish is so different than how this species would hunt for fish, the tern wasn’t figuring out how to self-feed. We tried using long hemostats to pick up the smelt and hold them near the tern’s face. It worked and the tern began taking smelt from the hemostats. By “tong feeding” closer to the dish, the tern finally figured out how to pick up and eat smelt on its own.

Once the anemia was corrected, strength improved, and the patient’s body condition improved, we were able to transfer it to an outdoor enclosure to begin reconditioning it to flight. It soon began taking good flights in the larger outdoor space. The body condition score had improved to a healthy 2.5/5 and the weight increased to 190 grams (6.7 ounces).

Our rehab team began scouting for an appropriate release location. On October 9, 2020, after 44 days in care, the sooty tern was released off of Sanibel Island early in the morning to give it ample daylight to fly to its normal habitat out at sea.