Hurricane Irma’s strong winds did more than splinter trees and knock out power. The gales also blew a white-tailed tropicbird from its ocean home all the way to Marion County.
Luckily, a few enterprising locals found the bird and knew they had to help get it back home.
“A woman found the bird on a dirt road in Marion County. She didn’t even know what kind of bird it was, but she knew that it was something that wasn’t supposed to be there. She posted it on Facebook, and a birder in Ohio found it and shared it with a Georgia people,” said Andrew Theus, a birdwatcher from Columbus.
Ted Theus, a local attorney and Andrew’s father, was the one in Columbus who heard about the bird. He volunteered to drive out to Marion County and pick it up.
These kinds of things can happen when hurricanes strike the southeast, Theus said.
“My dad and I are both bird watchers, just as a hobby. There’s quite a big community in Columbus and statewide, and in general, whenever there’s a hurricane, birders get excited.”
It’s bittersweet excitement, Theus said, because while the storm can blow birds inland that people otherwise wouldn’t see, sometimes those birds will get hurt or trapped.
“They can just drop and die from exhaustion,” he said.
That’s what might have happened to this one. Theus said it was only the third time one had ever been documented in an inland county.
Theus’s father caged the bird in an old carrier and took it to Macon Road Veterinary Clinic, which Theus said has helped rehabilitate birds before.
“They’d never done anything with a bird like this one, but we knew they could handle other birds. Usually raptors and things like that,” said Theus.
They tried feeding the tropicbird some minnows to see if it could regain some strength, but it wouldn’t eat. Still, “it appeared to be in good health after spending the night in a quiet, calm place,” Theus said.
With the bird a little more energetic, they decided it needed to be released as soon as possible.
Theus said his father drove from Columbus all the way down to St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The bird seemed to know it was heading back home, and it became very excited, singing and climbing on the door of the cage.
When they finally took it out to the water, Theus’s father said the bird’s release went “better than I even had hoped for.”
The bird took off immediately and flew out over the ocean. The birders took out their binoculars and watched it fly into the horizon.
“No doubt there are several birds like this that ended up in random places due to this storm that didn't survive, but thankful this was a success story,” he said.
Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE