The Ill-advised Cormorant Hunt Begins
Tuesday, September 15, marks the beginning of an effort by the Ontario government to extirpate a native bird species, the Double-crested Cormorant, from the province. They intend to do this at the behest of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, by claiming that the migratory, native cormorant is a game bird. To make the hunt feasible, the Ford government has had to allow hunters to kill the birds and allow them to go to waste, because the flesh of cormorants is generally thought of as inedible. Ontario is the only jurisdiction in the developed world to allow the wasting (non-consumption) of “game”. Scientists, including the government’s own experts, naturalists, conservationists and ethical hunters have all opposed this Draconian measure. There are many more hunters who can legally kill cormorants than there are cormorants in the entire province.
Risk of Wounded Birds, Left to Suffer
Starting on September 15, until the end of December, we are faced with the very real problem of wounded cormorants since this legislative move will likely attract hunters who will be killing for its own sake with no regard to using the meat or interest in “fair chase”, and may be blasting away in regions across Ontario. While it is very easy to shoot a cormorant (they fly low and in straight lines, the easiest possible moving target for a shotgun) it can be extremely difficult to retrieve and euthanize a wounded one. Studies of wounding rates of waterfowl vary, but generally speaking wounding rates amount to an average of around thirty percent. Many birds struck by shotgun pellets will continue flying and die later, but those who fall to the water may be able to dive and escape retrieval even if there is a genuine effort to do so.
Risk to Loons: Cormorants and loons are similar in shape, size, and habits so we anticipate that an unknowable number of loons may be mistaken for cormorants and shot.
What to do if you find a wounded bird?
We advise four major considerations:
1. Never, ever put your own or another human life at risk in attempting a rescue.
2. Only attempt a rescue on shore, never from a boat (people often fall out of boats when leaning over).
3. Report the situation, with photographs and video when possible. Include the date, time and location of your find. Send the photos and videos to firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Call Barry Kent MacKay if you need help or advice at 905-472-9731
Bites and Boxes
The bite of both cormorants and loons can draw blood, but cormorants are a particular concern because of a strong hook at the tip of the beak. Ouch! Always attempt to cover the head of either species with a cloth, towel, pillowcase, jacket or similar material, both to calm the bird down and to protect the rescuer. Always seek control of the wounded bird by firmly holding on to the head, behind the eyes, even when the head is covered, and holding the body with the other arm and hand, cradling it in the crook of your arm (rather like a bagpipe). Their feet are harmless (claws can only create a minor scratching at most) but the beak, especially of a cormorant, is a strong weapon. Especially guard your face and eyes.
Place the bird in a container such as a large blue recycling box or sturdy cardboard box and fasten a cloth or towel cover over the top so the bird cannot see out. Do not worry about airholes so long as it is not a sealed container, but if the bird is to be held overnight, place soft covering on the bottom. The bird MUST be taken to a qualified licensed wildlife rehabilitation centre to be assessed, and either restored to health or humanely euthanized: http://www.ontariowildliferescue.ca/. If no such facility is available, the bird should be taken to a co-operative veterinarian (phone in advance) or humane society or animal shelter, for euthanasia. Do not attempt to feed the bird or provide water unless the bird is kept for a day or more, and then only in a shallow bowel (“untippable” pet watering bowels work well).
To find a suitable bird rehabilitation centre, visit: http://www.ontariowildliferescue.ca/ and click on “birds”.
Try to call ahead.
Here are things you should know
Shot/Ammunition and its affect on wounding rates: Cormorants may now legally be hunted by appropriately licensed hunters in areas where waterfowl hunting is legal, and only with shotguns. These weapons fire a grouping of small, round metal pellets, called shot, in what is called a “pattern” that both widens and loses velocity as it moves toward the target. The farther away the target is, the fewer pellets hit it, and do so with less velocity, but the pattern widens, making a hit more likely. This explains why so many birds are only wounded.
Pellets either kill or bring a bird down by hitting a vital organ, severing a major artery or vein or shattering wing bones. The closer the bird is to the shooter, the smaller, but more deadly the pattern. The farther away the bird is the wider the pattern is, thus that much easier to score a hit, but with diminishing likelihood of killing the bird outright, or doing enough damage to bring the bird down. Because of the covering of feathers many birds are wounded without any punctures being visible.
Disease: Both cormorants and loons are subject to “die-offs”, when significant numbers are found washed up on shore as a result of disease. Therefore, it’s possible you might find the dead body of a cormorant or loon who died from disease, and not from being shot. So, basic hygiene, including hand-washing is an important precaution if you handle any bird or other wildlife; dead, wounded or possibly compromised by illness. Any wounded bird must be taken as soon as reasonably possible to a qualified wildlife rehabilitation centre.
What a Rescuer Needs
Gloves: Wearing heavy gloves will protect hands from bites, which, especially from cormorants, can be painful and draw blood. Obviously anytime the skin is broken antiseptics should be applied as soon as possible, no matter the cause.
Decisiveness: If you are afraid to handle a wounded bird as big as a cormorant or loon, don’t! Try to get help. But if you do, remember to be bold and decisive. Both cormorants and loons are awkward on land, especially if wounded, and the trick is to get between them and an escape route (water) or a source of danger, such as a roadway. Throw a cloth (see above) over them or simply grab the head, firmly, to take control and steel yourself to flapping wings and scrambling, draw the bird in close to your body and hold it with wings to the bird’s side. Support the body. Done with firm decisiveness it is not that difficult, but you have to be firmly committed to the task and not be startled if the bird reacts.
Report Dead Birds
If the bird is dead, we would still like to see photo-documentation, and what you suspect is the cause of death, but it is never a good idea to handle dead animals unless you have been taught how to safely do so. There is no need to handle a dead body in order to report your finding. Having reports of dead or wounded cormorants left behind will help us to hold the government accountable for its ill-advised hunt.
Send all photos, including date, time and location of your find to email@example.com
Spread the Word
Please share this information with anyone you know who lives in Ontario near, or travels to areas where cormorants or loons flock. This include areas near lakes and other waterways; especially islands, headlands and waterfront locations.
We are now in a time of grave danger for these native birds, and the risk of wounded birds being left behind is great.
Even if you are unable to help a suffering bird, by reporting the bird to us we can gather documentation to help us prevent another hunting season taking place in the future.
Reports of dead birds left behind is also important information for us to have.