Penguin Rehab

Cocktail Hour: An Avian Meet-and-Greet

African penguins aren’t the only patients served up a cocktail of fluids, formula, food and meds at the rehab center. During a visit one might also find cormorants, swift terns, gulls, albatrosses, gannets (juveniles pictured above) and any other type of sick, oiled or injured coastal bird. Some of the most memorable I met include:

From Antarctica, with Love: Southern Giant Petrel

Native to Earth’s most southern continent, the petrel swooped into our hearts with the fanfare of an exotic tourist. Perhaps it’s the fleeting connection it offered to that untouchable, snowy desert that made this bird one of my favorites. They’re also not very common visitors this far north, and the drama only increased with it being housed directly across from the nursery (I was told it eats penguin chicks for fun). It caused quite the scare when it nearly escaped from his pool, but fortunately no bird babies were harmed.

Many others of this kind have struggled in the “balmy” temperatures of this northern outpost, but much to everyone’s surprise, this petrel seemed to be doing just fine, spending most of the day playfully dunking its head in the pool. When not doing petrel cardio, it usually followed rehabbers around in search of food. A boat release was booked to send it back home. With him, I sent my regards to the snow.

Rocky: A Beloved Ambassador Bird

The center’s only rockhopper penguin, Rocky is tame and a permanent resident of SANCCOB’s home pen. When she’s not away on school visits, Rocky can usually be found watching the passerby from her favorite spot, often pointing lost volunteers to the most likely locations they’re supposed to be. She gives free hugs as well.

Squee: Juvenile Kelp Gull

There’s another permanent resident at the center, a juvenile kelp gull named Squee, and Squee…is mean. So mean, in fact, if he senses even an ounce of fear he will charge you and bite. Retreat is not an option. I mostly just avoided him, but on one occassion, I held my ground. A few centimeters away from me, Squee let out his usual angry call, but this time, I didn’t budge. It was like he didn’t know what to do. He kind of retreated and came back again, a bit more puffed up and imposing looking, but to no avail. His thunder was gone. I didn’t press the subject by lingering, but I took it as a victory.

It maybe weird to say this of a bird, but his eyes always looked so sad when I knew him. I hope it was just adolescent angst.

Hartlaub’s Heartthrob: Gull 314

Swift terns may have been my favorite species, but my favorite non-penguin individual was juvenile Hartlaub’s Gull 314. With pristine, new feathers and dark button eyes, the bird was really pretty as far as gulls go. In gull speak, I’d imagine him having a really uppity name, like Georg or Victoria.

Even so, it’s kind of weird to get attached to a gull. They’re so common and so average in size, they hardly command the excitement of the penguins. Still, they had a special place in my heart. I enjoyed squeezing the feeding tube past their tiny air holes like threading a needle, trying to do it in such a way that they don’t freak out and vomit. It required mental discipline more than physical, and that’s right up my alley.

But back to 314… Maybe it’s the way he shivered and locked his beak shut when I went to give him antibiotics that made him look so precious and vulnerable. Or the fact that he was the first H-gull I saw steal and swallow an entire fishtail half his size.  It took ten minutes for him to swallow the fishtail. You could see the hint of fins protruding from his beak as he sat with a loglike neck wider than his body, not quite sure if the tail should go up or down. It was actually kind of intelligent in a way.  He’s supposed to get formula twice a day to gain weight… there’s no faster way to avoid feeding tubes than swallowing a body weight’s worth of food in one go. Whatever the reason, I was able to pick him out of the crowd without even checking his number. In personality and plumage, he was a very pretty bird.


And last but certainly not least there was CC138, but that bird was so memorable he gets a post all on his own…