Orphaned wedgie chicks easy to love
ON OAHU this week, I had the privilege of helping feed some orphaned wedge-tailed shearwater chicks.
Before I describe this experience, readers be warned: The content of this story is loaded with anthropomorphism.
I can't help it. Ascribing human characteristics to wedgies, as they are affectionately called, is as irresistible as the birds themselves.
Wedge-tailed shearwaters are native to tropical and subtropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. During my recent voyage across the South Pacific, wedgies were often the only offshore wildlife we saw for days on end.
Watching these seabirds ride the raging winds just inches above big breaking waves entertained me for hours. The name shearwater suits these birds perfectly.
Most of Hawaii's half-million or so wedge-tailed shearwaters nest on the protected islands of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Monument. I met my first wedgies there years ago while working as a volunteer.
One day the refuge manager announced it was time to band the island's shearwater chicks. "How do we get them?" I asked, knowing they nestled near the end of long burrows or tucked themselves deep into rocky crevices.
"Like this," he said. He laid flat on the ground, snaked his arm nearly to his armpit into a wedgie burrow, and gently pulled out a blinking chick. Instantly I fell in love.
Gray, super-fine down feathers cover wedgie chicks' bodies and their beaks curve up in a smile. C. Vanderlip's photo on page 11 of Hawaii Audubon Society's booklet "Hawaii's Birds" captures the wedgie grin perfectly.
OK, I know these birds aren't really smiling, but their apparent grin beneath those dark eyes amid a cloud of fluff is absolutely adorable.
Sometimes when you pick up a wedgie chick it emits a typical wedge-tailed shearwater moan. Adult birds use this mournful sound as a mating call. Sometimes I hear it at night from my Kailua apartment.
Which brings me to Oahu's wedgies. Some nest on offshore islands, but a few hearty birds raise their young along our coastline. I say hearty because these birds must defend themselves from cats, dogs, rats, mongooses and people.
Recently, while clearing private land at Black Point, workers noticed burrows beneath the surface. Inside were wedgie chicks waiting for their parents to bring their daily meal.
The burrows were ruined and the parents gave up. But the community did not. In a heart-warming story of cooperation, concerned neighbors and volunteers from multiple agencies built new homes for the 25 chicks.
Now this team takes turns feeding the youngsters tiny fish twice a day. It's a hard, time-consuming job.
The birds are doing well, but roaming neighborhood cats are a threat. If the cats are controlled, the chicks will grow up and be gone by late November.
How do the chicks feel about all this? I think they love us for our efforts.
OK, maybe it's the fish they love. Wherever it comes from, there is love at that lot.