Last year, somewhere in Alaskan waters, a remarkable thing happened on my MM’s boat. A bird crashed onto the deck of the tug, and he thought it was badly hurt and might not survive. He said it seemed to have been knocked unconscious for a moment or two, but then shook its head, sat up, and surveyed its surroundings. My captain wrapped it in a towel and put it in a big crate in a protected area near the bow. He called me ‘cos I’m the one everyone goes to to help any kind of animal. He described it as having a crest and webbed feet and we figured it must be a seabird. I did a bit of research, and based upon his description, it appeared to be a Crested Auklet.
According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife (2006), a Crested Auklet is a small, peculiar-looking seabird with a bright orange bill (during breeding season) and an eye-catching crest ornament, which is present in both sexes. Males and females prefer mates with large crests and have a distinctive tangerine odor to their plumage.
During the breeding season, this bird is found only in the Bering Sea and adjacent North Pacific Ocean, and nests in colonies on remote coastlines and islands.
Summer foods include marine invertebrates and less frequently fish and squid. Crested Auklets often forage in large flocks. To capture their food, birds dive from the surface and pursue the prey in underwater “flight”.
In Alaska, Crested Auklets are found in the Bering Sea, on the Aleutian Islands, and on the Shumagin Islands.
He chopped up some sardines and put it in the crate along with some water, and the bird seemed to be very comfortable and even alert. After a day or so, I thought the tug might be getting too far away from its habitat, so I called the Audubon Society and they put me in a touch with a bird rehab center. They suggested creating a bathtub with seawater so the bird could take a dip, and that it probably had a head wound. If the bird did not fly away on its own, when the tug got into a port, they would fly someone down to claim it and bring it to the rehab center to recuperate.
Apparently this happens frequently on boats that crisscross oceans. Most of the time, however, they don’t survive the contact. I’ve been on a few tugs myself and hit my head and stubbed my toe often enough to know how much it hurts!
The happy ending to this story is that the auklet flew off the next day and hopefully has learned to stay away from boats.