Kara Brydson, Head of Marine Policy at RSPB Scotland, with some advice for fishermen who find a winged stowaway on board.

 Caring for a stowaway bird

We were recently contacted by someone looking for advice on how to care for a lost bird that was found perched on a fishing boat and thought we’d share the advice a bit wider in case it is of use.

Migrating birds can sometimes be blown off-course, suffer from severe weather, or collide with lit structures at sea. Boats may not be a bird’s first choice of perch- but they can be a good refuge when they become disoriented by fog or are simply exhausted. After a short period to rest and refuel, these migrants may well recover sufficiently to fly on.

Meadow pipits are among the variety of stowaway birds found on fishing vessels. (photo by Tom Marshall).

If a bird is in such poor condition that it can be captured by hand, then the best that can be done is to put the wee creature in a box somewhere dark and quiet, and release it when close to shore. Make sure you provide water (in a coffee jar lid or whatever is available).

Birds build up large fat reserves before migration – and some small birds can even double their body weight. Feeding birds on board is difficult as many are insectivores and a stressed bird may not be inclined to feed it all.  However, you can try to feed the bird anything nutritious you would give to garden birds like seeds, raisins or crumbs.

More at home in a garden than on the high seas, chaffinch are among the range of species found on fishing boats. (photo Ray Kennedy)

Helping inform science

We very much appreciate photographs of migrant ‘stowaways’ that crews send on to RSPB – and they provide useful information for us and other bird scientists. Ringed birds have a lightweight metal ring fitted on one leg. A unique number on each ring shows where the bird comes from, which can help us unravel the mystery of migration patterns. Each ring has a return address to show where to send information, or you can contact the British Trust for Ornithology http://www.bto.org

Unringed birds are worth reporting too, with a note of the time, date, location and weather conditions when the bird landed. This helps to build a picture of which species are most prone to having to seek refuge on boats, and the conditions under which it happens. This can also uncover ‘rarities’, ‘scarcities’ or ‘vagrants’  - birds which astound scientists by being many, many miles away from where they’re expected to be.

I hope these pointers may be of use to fishing vessels and thanks to those showing an interest in these wee birds.