Volunteers needed to help with study of birds

BY KAREN E. BOWES Staff Writer

Staff Writer

Seen any dead birds lately? Scott Newman would like you to freeze them for him.

Volunteers from throughout New Jersey have signed up to search for dead birds along Sandy Hook and other beaches in order to better understand bird mortality rates and how they relate to the environment.

Newman, a Wildlife Trust representative, held training sessions for volunteers on Friday at Fort Hancock.

“It’s caliper time,” sang the veterinarian and doctorate holder, before explaining to volunteers how to measure the wing span of a dead bird with a caliper, a ruler-like device similar to a slide rule.

According to Newman, researchers would prefer “fresh dead” birds for the study.

“How dead is dead?” asked one member of the audience. Newman’s answer — just smell it; you’ll know.

Wildlife Trust, in collaboration with Tufts University and many other groups, are sponsoring the survey, which spans the entire eastern seaboard. Data is being collected as far north as Nova Scotia in a sister survey being conducted by Canadian officials.

Volunteers listened for three hours as Newman explained everything they would need to do if they encountered a dead bird, fresh or otherwise.

“We’re trying to figure out how many are dying due to human causes,” Newman said.

Oil and chemical spills play a large part in bird mortality rates, the speaker said, but other factors contribute as well, such as the influence of algae and the possibility of choking on garbage.

“Ocean health is really important to our health,” said Newman. “If the birds are sick, it’s not that much of a stretch we might [get sick]. It’s about using the birds as sentinels of the health and well-being of the ocean.”

Volunteers are assigned a stretch of beach that they will walk regularly once or twice a month for at least a year, recording what they find in data sheets provided by the Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET). If a dead bird is found, it must be measured, photographed and clipped. If possible, Newman would like to freeze the bird in order to conduct a necropsy, or bird autopsy.

“By no means should you freeze the bird in your own freezer, in your house with your food,” said Newman.

Industrial freezers will be provided by organizers of the study, hopes Newman, who is still currently looking for a place to store the frozen carcasses.

Middletown residents Jacqueline and David Carboy are retired and walk the beaches at Sandy Hook regularly.

“We live here anyway,” said Jacqueline Corboy. “We might as well do something while we’re walking. Plus, we’re really interested in the shore.”

Elaine and Bob Sahs of Matawan are also retired and looking to get involved with the community.

“I was volunteering for something else and my wife said, ‘Hey, since you’re in the volunteering mood, why don’t you try this?’ ” Bob Sahs said.

Jerry Golub of the New Jersey Audubon Society drove all the way from Roseland to take part in the study.

“It’s more of an incentive to go out and watch birds,” said Golub.