Cory’s shearwater breed on islands in the Mediterranean and north-west Atlantic Ocean, after which they migrate down through the Atlantic and onto the western Indian Ocean. They are common summer visitors to southern Africa, especially off the western and southern coast, while more scarce off the south-eastern coast.
During a recent trip, shortly after we had just finished hauling an 80 km longline off Richard’s Bay, on the east coast of South Africa, a beautiful Cory’s shearwater landed on the rail of the deck. It was a very swift landing she made. I immediately asked the skipper to slow down the boat, so I could make a careful examination of this precious seabird.
A Cory's shearwater in flight. Photo by Trevor Hardaker ©
I was surprised to find she was not at all bothered by my presence, as I approached in close proximity. After careful assessment, I then decided to give this pretty seabird a gentle stroke to see her response. Perhaps predictably, she turned her head with her beak raised up in the air, ready to bite me! I was pleased to see her react like that as this was the kind of response I was expecting from a seabird.
As she raised her wings up as a warning sign, I couldn’t help notice that her left wing was slightly bruised and the underneath plumage was wet. I carefully examined her, making sure that her wings were properly folded while she continued to bite me. I then placed her in a dry cardboard box to allow her to dry off. I made sure that the bird was far from any noise and disturbances on the boat.
An hour later, I went back to check on her and I was welcomed by another quick bite on the palm of my hand. I was pleased to see her lively and I then gave her some pieces of fish and moved a distance away to give her some time to decide on the free meal before her. At first she hesitated to take a bite but later swallowed a huge piece of fish and it was just amazing to see her do that. I then called the skipper, who is also a bird-enthusiast, to show him how the bird has changed and when he arrived I lifted the Cory’s shearwater to release her.
She flew away without even saying ‘goodbye’ or ‘thank you for the meal’. I was a bit sad about it, but was very much glad to see her recovered and full of energy again. Her parting gift to me were the bite-marks on my hand..........