Hundreds of seagull chicks found dead in Toronto Gull-maggedon
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Hundreds of flightless Ring-billed Gull babies, commonly known as seagulls, were found dead in a Toronto parking lot during last weekend's heatwave. The babies were nesting on top of buildings at Orfus Rd. and Dufferin St. near Yorkdale Shopping Centre.
The birds were nesting on flat, black rooftops that absorb more heat and reach extreme temperatures during the summer. These surfaces become so hot it scorches birds' feet, causing them to jump off to escape.
"The fledglings started to boil and jumped off," says Cathy Stockman, operations manager at Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge in Pefferlaw, Ontario.
Tragically, the chicks without developed feathers jumped to their death and died on impact. The babies that did survive were able to break their fall because they were further along in the fledgling stage.
Hundreds of flightless gull chicks flooded the parking lot and wandered nearby streets. Many were run over by vehicles and at least 60 bodies were found flattened on the road. Volunteers dubbed the event 'Gull-mageddon'.
The fledglings at this age are entirely dependent on their parents. They do not have flight ability, and if abandoned, have no access to food and water, and are ultimately defenceless against predators.
"There were so many deceased birds and dozens of live fledglings wandering around and sheltering in the shade underneath the cars. It was a bizarre scene," Sarker says. There were too many to contain on her own and she initiated the first call for help on social media.
Dozens of local volunteers rushed to the scene to contain hundreds of babies who appeared to be injured or abandoned.
Shadia Toderovitz, a Mally's Third Chance rescue volunteer, said there were deceased birds everywhere. The clumps of feathers on the ground and in the air looked like it was snowing in June. "There were babies in every direction. I saw over 100 in the area I was in and I know there were at least another hundred on the other side."
Toderovitz said many drivers did not realize the gulls were flightless and incorrectly assumed they would fly away when approached by cars.
Some of the gull chicks had broken legs and injured wings from the fall, and head wounds from being pecked by non-parent adult birds.
Shades of Hope says gulls are generally non-aggressive to each other, but the heat stress and chaos of losing their young may have caused abnormal behaviour.
Gull-mageddon is not a one-time catastrophe. Stockman says this isn't the only location where it happens and can occur on any dark flat-top roof with nesting birds. "It's time people take responsibility for what we are doing to wildlife."
As global warming causes unusually high temperatures earlier in the year and more areas are urbanized, gulls will continue to dwell at the few safe nesting options they have: rooftops.
"We are destroying their habitat and causing them to act unnaturally," Stockman says. "We have a responsibility to mitigate that whenever we can." Possible solutions include whitewashing rooftops to reduce heat absorption or providing shaded areas for the birds during their nesting period. "It's not going to solve the problem, but it will help," she says.
Thanks to the dedicated volunteers, more than 100 gull chicks were rescued within 24 hours. Eighty fledglings were transported to Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge and approximately 50 to the Toronto Wildlife Centre.
Volunteers have posted signs in the area warning drivers to slow down and watch out for the remaining chicks in the parking lot. They are monitoring the area and will provide food and water for the babies as needed. The fledglings should be mature enough to fly within a few weeks.
"If anyone sees a bird in the parking lot and is concerned, they should ensure that the bird is in a safe spot – but leave it there," says Nathalie Karvonen, founder of the Toronto Wildlife Centre. She advises finders to call the TWC hotline to assess whether the gulls are in need of help.
"Some birds may be cared for by their parents on the ground, and we would not want to separate the family."
The owners of the storefronts affected by Gull-mageddon have been advised on how to prevent this from happening again.
Toronto Wildlife Centre. Additional photos and videos provided by Pia Sarker and Shadia Toderovitz.
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