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Birds of a Feather Flock Together

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K’gari-Fraser Island becomes the final resting place for a small number of migrating animal species from whales to birds that become stranded due to weather, limited food resources, illness or other influential reasons. This is also a natural part of the island’s nutritive cycles.

Recently, some rarely observed pelagic seabird species for the island were collected including two live juvenile red-tailed tropic birds, Phaethon rubricauda, native to tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans and a juvenile black-browed albatross, Thalassarche melanophris, one of the smallest of the 24 albatross species with a wingspan of ~2.4 metres.

Both species are listed as vulnerable. They are true seabirds, spending their time soaring the open oceans and only coming to land to breed unless stranded.

Lady Eliot Island red-tailed tropic bird with both adult and juvenile plumage (photo: Trip Advisor)

Although Red-tailed tropic birds nest on nearby Lady Elliot Island to the north of K’gari, where Senior Ranger Linda Behrendorff was involved in monitoring and banding individuals, they are a rare find on K’gari and even rarer to see live.

A seasonal ‘strander’ recently seen washing up in large numbers is the short-tailed or slender-billed shearwater Ardenna tenuirostris; formerly Puffinus tenuirostris, more commonly known as the muttonbird. It is currently the most abundant seabird species in Australian waters and breeds mainly on small islands in the Bass Strait and Tasmania, migrating to the Northern Hemisphere for the boreal summer. Interestingly, it is also one of the few Australian native birds in which the chicks are commercially harvested.

Although they can wash in alive, they are generally emaciated, with little chance of survival – even when rescued by competent carers.

A sample of seabird carcases that strand on the island is sent to DES staff investigating causes of death and the impact of plastics in the gut content. All seabirds forage for food on the open ocean and can mistake plastic debris for food and then feed it to their chicks. Assessment is showing that this ingested plastic, as well as other factors, are likely contributing to contamination of their chicks and reduces the room in their stomachs for food storage needed for their migrating journey.

Contributed by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service & Partnerships

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