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Avocet On March - 18 - 2014

Helene Jessop, Assistant Conservation Officer for the RSPB at Exeter has provided me with an update on the seabird wreck in the eastern Atlantic following the winter gales. A conservative estimate puts the figure at a staggaring  30,000 birds.  In Cornwall the following were reported

c1,400 birds of 15 different species, with more than 1,300 auks (mostly guillemots, with smaller numbers of razorbills and more than 50 reported puffins) and also shag, kittiwake, black-headed gull, common gull, herring gull, lesser-black backed gull, gannet, fulmar, cormorant, oystercatcher, black-throated diver and great northern diver.  Specifically, the breakdown is:


685      Guillemot

342      Razorbill

229      Auks

53        Puffin

45        Unidentified

11        Shag

6          Herring gull

5          Gull species

4          Cormorant

4          Gannet

3          Kittiwake

3          Common gull

2          Black-headed gull

2          Great northern diver

1          Black-throated diver

1          Fulmar

1          Lesser black-backed gull

1          Oystercatcher


Birds found on beaches on S and N coasts.

This is a major seabird storm-wreck affecting seabirds (especially auks) that were wintering in the NE Atlantic.  We are worried about its effect on breeding populations of some species such as puffins which are already under stress from factors such as lack of food in the breeding season in some areas, particularly if the future brings more frequent and more severe winter storms. 


The combined total of all reported affected birds so far from the coasts of France and Spain (Bay of Biscay), Channel Islands, SW England, Wales and a few other parts of the UK including SE England, Cumbria and Scotland is now 29,461.  This figure should be regarded as a conservative minimum (many other birds will have died unobserved and unrecorded, their bodies lost at sea or on inaccessible shorelines).  Reports span the period end of January to early March; the peak appeared to be in mid to late February, with `new’ birds still being reported in early March.


There are many reports confirming that birds are in poor bodily condition (underweight/no fat felt over breastbone/no food in their stomachs).  For example, veterinary examination of some razorbills in Pembrokeshire, Wales found all to be emaciated and, on 2 March 2014, 44 of 56 fresh dead razorbills found on Chesil Beach, Dorset were weighed and all were considerably below the average recorded weight for this species.  LPO (Olivier Le Gall, 23/2/14) reported that live birds have been extremely weak and typically weighed less than half the healthy weight for that species. 


There are 26 recorded affected species: black-headed gull, black-throated diver, Brunnich’s guillemot, common gull, cormorant, fulmar, gannet, glaucous gull, great black-backed gull, great crested grebe, great northern diver, great skua, guillemot, herring gull, kittiwake, lesser black-backed gull, little auk, Manx shearwater, Mediterranean gull, oystercatcher, puffin, razorbill, red kite, shag, storm petrel and yellow legged-gull.


The greatest impact has been on puffins (more than 15,770 recorded) followed by guillemots (more than 8,700) and razorbills (more than 2,270).  1,320 birds have been reported as `auk species’, these are likely to be additional guillemots and razorbills.  More than 440 kittiwakes have been reported dead.


RSPB press release 4/3/14

Wildlife Trusts press release 4/3/14

Media coverage included The Times and The Daily Telegraph 5/3/14, Western Morning News 6/3/14 and ITV and BBC television.


British Trust for Ornithology report very high number of ringing returns related to this storm wreck event (cf previous years) which is a consequence of the high level of mortality among seabirds.  Dead birds found include birds ringed in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. – 19/2/14  – 6/3/14 – March 2014 – 27/2/14 3/3/14 – info on previous seabird wrecks


SW ENGLAND (coasts of Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset plus birds taken into care from these counties)

17         Isles of Scilly (includes 4 puffins)

1400     Cornwall (includes 53 puffins) (this is likely to be updated again with further data from CWT’s Cornwall Marine Strandings Network)

323       Devon (includes 6 puffins)

674       Dorset (includes 21 puffins)

209       Found alive and taken into welfare care

2623     Total for SW England


Birds reported affected in SW England (not including those taken to welfare care – which were mainly auks) include:

1022     Guillemot

621       Razorbill

542       Auks (presumably guillemots or razorbills)

84         Puffin

51         Unknown species

17         Shag

15         Kittiwake

13         Gull species

10         Herring gull

10         Mixed species (probably likely to be mostly auks))

9          Gannet

4          Cormorant

4          Common gull

2          Fulmar

2          Manx shearwater

2          Black-headed gull

2          Great northern diver

1          Lesser black-backed gull

1          Black-throated diver

1          Oystercatcher

1          Great skua


Total of 2,623 birds reported washed up on SW England coastline (this is after removing the possibility of duplicate counting of live birds reported to RSPB also being those in welfare care).  This is a conservative estimate, no doubt there will have been more but not found or reported.


Most birds are NOT reported as polluted with oil or anything else.  170 birds have been reported with oil on them (dead + live ones in welfare care, to avoid double counting of live ones reported on beach which may have ended up in welfare care) which is now 6% of the total of reported birdsfor SW England counties (Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, plus Isles of Scilly).  While the total number of birds reported with some oil on them is a small percentage of the total of birds affected by the storm-wreck event (and that percentage has dropped slightly as more birds have been reported on beaches – oiled birds were among the first casualties) it is of concern that some birds have been oiled. A few of these birds have been reported as covered in oil and a few of the birds in welfare care were reported as smelling very strongly of oil, which indicates fresh oil.  The origin of the oil is unknown.  In addition, 14 birds from Cornwall (Marazion and Downderry beaches) reported in late February were described as having or possibly having a sticky substance on their feathers but nothing more is known.


A few people reporting dead birds are also mentioning finding lumps of unidentified white stuff on several beaches in Cornwall and Dorset.  The Environment Agency analysed samples taken from the strandline at Chiswell, Chesil Beach on 24 and 25 February 2014 and results obtained today from Julian Wardlaw, Environment Agency, Dorset 27/2/14 show the substance to be “rancid edible oil”.  On a couple of beaches in Cornwall a similar white substance is reported as being in small bits on the beach. The RSPB is unaware of any link between this substance (which has not been reported from other beaches where birds have been found) and dead/live `beached’ birds.


Note: RSPB was unable to carry out a Beached Bird Survey (BBS) in SW England this winter due to H&S concern re high landslip risk.  We are therefore reliant on ad hoc reports received; Full BBS results from around the rest of the UK coastline are not yet availablebut returns to date (4/3/14) indicate that increased numbers of seabirds have been found in Cumbria, Ayrshire and Argyll with moderately higher numbers in Shetland. Early indications are that figures along the east coast don’t seem higher than usual, but a lot of information is still missing from there.


RSPB thanks Cornwall, Devon and Dorset Wildlife Trusts (and the Cornwall Marine Strandings Network and DoWT staff at Chesil Beach, Dorset in particular), RSPCA, South Devon Seabird Trust, BTO Ringing Scheme, National Trust and Natural England staff and many members of the public and birdwatchers for providing records for SW England.


I have also received some reports of storm-wrecked birds from elsewhere in the UK including those below.



55 dead (mostly auks, including 2 puffins).



22 dead birds, mostly guillemots and razorbills found during 5 mile BBS survey of south coast 22/23 February 2014.  No obvious pollution.  Previous BBS surveys have not recorded auks on beaches along this stretch of coast.



51 birds (mostly auks, including 8 puffins).



656 dead seabirds recorded, locations include Gower, Pembrokeshire, Llyn peninsula and Anglesey.  Includes 8 puffins.

Includes c60 dead birds, mainly auks of which 20+ razorbills Newgale beach, Pembrokeshire 23 February 2014.  Veterinary post mortem on a selection showed birds to be emaciated. – 25/2/14 – 25/2/14 – 2/3/14 26/2/14 (scroll to 4.55)



49 (including 20 dead guillemots, Saltcoats, Ayrshire (west coast) and 6 razorbills on the Isle of Cumbrae).



From Birdwatch Ireland’s seabird blog 26/2/14: “The situation in Ireland seems less severe so far but a number of dead seabirds have been reported from coastal areas in Counties Donegal, Galway, Cork & Wexford”.  RSPB has requested info.



Information from Alderney Wildlife Trust, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and media coverage:

Jersey – 785 dead (including 313 razorbills, 263 guillemots and 87 puffins).

Alderney – 119 dead, 16 taken into welfare care.  Majority of casualties are razorbills and guillemots (7 puffins).

Guernsey – 96 dead, 18 guillemots and 1 gannet taken into welfare care.  Most casualties are guillemots.

Sark – 9 dead.

Total – 1044



Information from LPO 26/2/14:

SW France (S Brittany to Biscay):

15541    Puffin – 14455 dead, 1086 live

6772       Guillemot – 5443 dead, 1329 live

652         Razorbill – 376 dead, 276 live

671         Auks – 671 dead, 0 live

394         Kittiwake – 392 dead, 2 live

109         Gannet – 92 dead, 17 live

45           Fulmar – 44 dead, 1 live

167         Others – 94 dead, 73 live

24,351   TOTAL – 21,567 dead, 2,784 live


LPO’s coordinated beach count on 22/23 February 2014 recorded 21,341 dead birds and 2,784 live birds (latter taken into welfare/veterinary care).  This number is included the results above.  More counts were planned for W/Es of 1-2 and 8-9 March 2014.


Cotentin peninsula (Cherbourg peninsula, Normandy facing west to Channel Islands):

430 dead birds reported, species unknown.


TOTAL combined dead/live birds on French beaches: 24,781


LPO report that fishermen have reported “carpets of dead birds floating at sea”.

LPO reports that ring recoveries indicate that many of the affected birds were ringed in the UK (so UK breeders?).  See BTO blogspot above. – 5/3/14


See the maps of the puffin strandings (dead or alive) from LPO 23/2/14 here:

Aquitaine:, to be compared with the same period for 2013:; the gap mid-way of the coast line is a no-entry military camp. 

Bretagne: - LPO update 5/3/14



Cantabria (northern Spain, south of Bay of Biscay)

180       Guillemot

29         Puffin

7          Razorbill

1          Little auk

3          Gannet

1          Shag

3          Cormorant

1          Kittiwake

6          Yellow-legged gull

231       Total (22/2/14)




Please report any more birds

Please follow guidance here for birds in SW England:



Photographs of the birds’ head and wings are useful to determine age and moult condition and so potential impact of this storm-wreck on the breeding population.  Please send direct to Professor Mike Harris, puffin expert at


Ringed birds

Please check all birds’ legs for rings, record details (letter and number combinations on rings) and report any ringed birds: (any location).


Fresh bodies

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratory Agencies’ centres at Truro and Starcross will accept any fresh corpses for post mortem.  Any bodies from Cornwall will go first to the centre at Truro for forwarding to Starcross and any suitable bodies found in Devon and Dorset can go to Starcross.  There is however no collection service available.  Birds must be fresh, labelled with species ID, date and location of finding and bagged (ideally separate bag per bodies from each location).

Starcross Investigation Centre & Laboratory
Staplake Mount, Starcross, Exeter, EX6 8PE
Tel: 01626 891121
Fax: 01626 891766
Nightline: 01626 891121


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