It’s Wedgie Season!
October and November is fledging season for Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. “Wedgies,” as they are affectionately called by wildlife biologists, are part of a mixed flock of seabirds that commercial fishermen rely upon to locate schools of ahi and other marketable fish. Young birds fledge from burrows excavated into coastal cliffs or dunes to life at sea.
The `ua`u kani, or wedge-tailed shearwater (Puffinus pacificus), is 17” in length from bill to tip of tail, with a wingspan of 38”. Adult birds leave coastal colonies at dawn to feed on fish and return after dark. Behavior while in these colonies is generally nocturnal and throughout the night birds emit weird moans, groans, and loud screams, thus they are nicknamed the “moaning bird.”
Wedge-tailed Shearwaters nest on all the major and offshore islands in the Hawaiian chain by digging a burrow with their bill and feet or utilizing natural crevices. Nesting sites are reused from year to year. Egg laying begins in June and July, with one bright white egg forming the clutch. Parents share an incubation period of 52 days, sometimes sitting side-by-side. The chicks are fed fish by regurgitation. Parents leave the nest site 2 – 3 weeks before their young have fledged, which is typically at 109 days of age. Young birds not yet capable of flight may wander from their burrows in search of food. At this time they are highly vulnerable to predators and often fall prey to mongoose, cats and dogs. Many fledglings are attracted at night by urban lights and fall into residential areas or onto highways where they are struck by automobiles.
Organized community efforts assist in the recovery and release of several hundred juvenile birds annually. Chicks that have wandered too far from the nest and are not yet capable of flight must be briefly held in captivity by State and Federal permitted wildlife rehabilitators. Seabirds found on Molokai can be turned in for rehabilitation to Arleone: call 553-5992.