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Happy ending for Arctic bird stranded in Shropshire garden

By Rob Smith | Shrewsbury | News | Published:

This tiny Atlantic bird was found stranded a long way from home, and was cared for at a Shropshire refuge before being freed on the east coast.

It is the first time one of its species, the little auk, has been found in the county for over 30 years.

The little auk, native to the Arctic and the north Atlantic Ocean, was blown off course and found in a Stapleton garden, near Shrewsbury, on Wednesday night.

He was then brought to the Cuan Wildlife Centre near Much Wenlock.

Centre manager Fran Hill said it was a first in her time at the centre.

"When the person who found him first rang in and said they had this little auk, we all looked at each other and thought it was going to be something else," she said.

"But when the box was brought in and opened up we saw what it was and it caused quite a stir.

Worry

"He couldn't have been blown any further inland really. I've heard of them them but have never seen one before.

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"I have spoken with a bird recorder who said the last time one of these little auks has been seen in Shropshire was in 1987."

The little auk was cared for overnight and hydrated through a feeding tube, though Fran said she couldn't sleep for worrying about the bird in its unfamiliar habitat.

"I had to start getting advice from people who had more dealings with these kinds of birds because it is so unusual for us," she said.

"I eventually arrived for work two hours early to check on him.

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Big Trouble for Little Birds | National Geographic

"It became very apparent that we needed to get him back to the coast because this environment isn't suitable for him."

Centre staff put out an appeal for a bird chauffeur, and one of Shropshire's bird ringers volunteered to ring the little auk and drive him to Huntstanton in Norfolk.

The driver arrived late on Thursday and released the diminutive bird, who flew into the air before happily settling on the breaking waves and beginning to hunt for his dinner.

Fran said: "The ringer lost sight of him quite quickly because it was dark by then, but hopefully the little auk finds his way home now."

FACT FILE

  • The little auk is a member of the alcid family, which also includes guillemots and puffins.
  • The little auk is half the size of the Atlantic puffin at 19–21 cm in length, with a 34–38 cm wingspan.
  • They mainly eat crustaceans, of which a 150g bird needs about 60,000 per day, but they can also eat small invertebrates and fish.
  • Small numbers of little auks visit the waters around the north of the UK every winter.
  • Kiviaq is an Inuit dish from Greenland. It is made by stuffing a seal skin with 300 to 500 little auks. Once full and airtight, the skin is sealed with seal fat and the birds are left to ferment for three to 18 months under a pile of rocks.
Rob Smith

By Rob Smith
Reporter

Reporter for the Shropshire Star based at Ketley in Telford.

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