This week is Skomer Island’s Shearwater Week - celebrating everything to do with the amazing Manx shearwaters!
As many of you may know, despite Skomer being home to the largest population of Manx shearwaters in the universe, you probably won’t see them on a day trip. However, our overnight guests this week have been able to see the adults, the (not very graceful, yet) fledglings and have even been lucky enough to see some of the burrow inhabiting bundles of fluff! Throughout their stay, our shearwater week guests have the opportunity to come and see some of the shearwater research taking place on Skomer, learn all about these amazing birds and their behaviour from talks given by the Oxford University researchers and explore the island that these birds call home.
Manx shearwater chicks start as big balls of fluff!
Throughout most of this year’s season the island has been home to researchers from the Oxford Navigation Group (OxNav) who have been investigating different aspects of the Manx shearwaters navigation and breeding behaviour.
Part of the OxNav research here on Skomer includes investigating how significantly reducing the pressure of chick feeding from the parent birds will affect their productivity in next year’s breeding season. In order to reduce the burden of having to fish for their chick as well as themselves, each pairs’ chick has been fed daily by researchers before the adults return at night. Feeding the chicks simulates a year where resources are plentiful for the adult, meaning they maintain their condition throughout the season. The parent birds are fitted with tracking devices and by monitoring their productivity next year it is possible to assess the carry over effect of creating these conditions.
Every day twenty shearwater chicks had to be collected from their burrows, weighed and then fed some ‘sardine soup’. Last week was the last week of the feeding as some of the chicks are pretty big now! But they’re still being weighed daily to keep track of their progress until they fledge – and this week our guests have been able to come and help out.
Every other day our shearwater week guests have been able to come down to North Haven to see the chick weighing – even getting to help out with taking measurements, scribing and sticking their hand down a burrow to get a bird!
Sticking my arm underground to try and find...
|...a shearwater chick!|
Chick weighing out in the colony – this chick was starting to lose his fluff for adult feathers
Ollie Padget the PhD researcher – explaining the difference in wing colouration between an adult and a fledgling.
As well as getting to see the Manx shearwater chicks, our guests have also been lucky enough to see some flying and rafting adults out to sea through our office scope – which come nightfall were all over the paths and looking a lot less graceful scuttling around and flying into our legs!
An adult Manx shearwater having a rest on land
There are definitely more fledgling chicks starting to wander out of their burrows at night to practice using their wings now. Soon they’ll all be flying 10,000km all the way down to the Patagonian coast in Argentina!
Alex Dodds - Long Term Volunteer