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Posted on 21/05/2019 by Phillip Island Nature Parks

Shearwater departure – a joint effort


The annual migration of Short-tailed shearwater chicks from Phillip Island to the Aleutian Islands around Alaska is complete ending a major joint effort led by Phillip Island Nature Parks partnering with Regional Roads Victoria, Bass Coast Shire Council, SP AusNet and the Island community. 

“A total of 256 young birds were rescued and relocated to safe take-off points for a second chance at take-off and 229 dead birds were removed from the roads over the 21 day operation,” said Jodi Bellett, Phillip Island Nature Parks Wildlife Rehabilitation Ranger

“There were less dead birds last year due to favourable weather conditions with strong winds allowing many birds to take off safely over a few nights. The pattern of migration varies slightly each year – due to winds and weather, but historically the peak of the fledging is around 25 April.”

The reason for the rescue operation is that the adult birds depart on their own migration in April leaving their chicks alone in their burrows to fatten up before they emerge and learn to fly before they follow their parents north.  During this time, they often crash land on the Island’s roads – which is dangerous for the birds and drivers.

Each organisation contributed to the operation in a true collaboration for wildlife.

The Nature Parks led the operation which involves rescuing the young birds from the roads and relocating them to safe take off points each morning and night. Staff and volunteers patrolled the roads in areas where the birds are most likely to land - particularly around Surf Beach, Cape Woolamai, San Remo bridge and near the Penguin Parade.

Vic Roads provided traffic support including lowering speed limits on affected roads to 40km/h and placing a billboard at San Remo to let motorists know that there may be shearwaters on the roads. This is aimed to increase the chicks’ chances of successfully departing the Island, and to raise awareness of motorists to potentially hazardous driving conditions.

SP Ausnet switched off lights on the San Remo bridge for 10 nights during the peak of the birds’ departure as the birds are known to flock to the lights on the bridge.

“Since the inception of the Shearwater Rescue Patrol in 1999, thousands of birds have been saved from the roads as they learn to fly. We thank the community and our partners for their ongoing support and look forward to working together next year,” said Jodi.

About short tailed shearwaters:

Short-tailed shearwaters are migratory seabirds that arrive on Phillip Island in September and spend the summer raising their single chick in a sand dune burrow. They have cultural significance for the Bunurong Peoples and undertake an incredible migration, flying over 16,000km to feed near Alaska during our winter. Adults begin their migration in early April and the fledglings leave about three weeks later with no guidance. Many of these birds are killed each year on the roads at night. Shearwater Rescue is a community initiative to reduce these deaths and part of the wonder of living with wildlife on Phillip Island.