Marsh birds blown in by Cristobal, out of place on the beach

Updated: Jun. 9, 2020 at 8:08 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Mother Nature can be cruel.

Tropical Storm Cristobal brought about a thousand birds known as clapper rails onto the Harrison County beaches. They are a long way from home.

“We don’t know exactly where these birds came from”, said Jared Feura of the Mississippi State Coastal Research and Extension Center. “It’s possible that they were blown in from the barrier islands. Some people think they could have come from as far as Louisiana, Islands off the coast of Louisiana, and some people think that it’s possible that as the storm surge receded, that some of these birds, especially because there are a lot of young ones, just kind of got swept back out and ended up on the beaches.

“This is a natural event and I think, unfortunately, they got pushed into a beach area that doesn’t have any marsh for them, so it’s kind of a harsh scenario," he said.

The clapper rails are known as secretive marsh birds. They live in salt marshes and typically are not found on the beach. Some viewers have reported seeing the birds wander onto Highway 90. Feura said that those birds are likely looking for a food source.

The birds are as young as four or five days old. They can survive on the marsh grass they blew in with for a short while, but that will be cleared out by heavy equipment in the coming days. While the adults can fly away, the young chicks will likely not survive this event.

“The chicks will likely not have too much luck if they can’t find pockets of marsh habitat,” Feura said. “And based on where we are, there’s not much around.”

“You know as hard as it is for us to see all these birds washed up, it is part of their evolutionary history and their life history,” said Abby Darrah, a biologist with Audubon Mississippi’s Coastal Bird Stewardship Program. “They evolved in a dynamic ecosystem like this that has these kinds of storms, so there are going to be years that a lot of the chicks die and even some of the adults, but they are robust enough that they can come back from that.”

“They are a very adaptable bird species,” Feura said. “They tend to rebound population-wise in anywhere from 3 to 5 years.”

Wildlife rescue teams were on the beach rescuing pelicans on Tuesday, as well.

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