European Storm-petrels are very small pelagic seabirds about the size of House martins. The only time they occur along the coast is during the breeding season or wind-blown after severe storms.
They breed fairly near Gibraltar in various colonies on both mainland Mediterranean Spain and nearby islands, particularly the Balearic archipelago, the Iberian stronghold. There are possibly colonies on the African side of the Strait. Most of the Iberian population winters in the South Atlantic Ocean. These birds are rarely recorded in Gibraltar even though they do occur in the middle of the Strait on passage.
During the early morning hours of Monday 9th November 2015, I was given a call by a local friend birder in Gibraltar, Albert Sheriff, alerting me of a European Storm-Petrel which he had been picked up exhausted in the area of New harbours, on the western side of Gibraltar.
I took the bird into care and identified the bird as that species, due to its white underwing panel, characteristic of European Storm-petrels. The bird was inspected and there was no apparent evidence of any wing, head or body damage and all its wing & tail feathers were intact. I nicknamed the bird, ‘Klopp’
Klopp was given some tinned sardine strips and fresh water, which is oil rich and full of energy. After half an hour it was obvious the bird was not feeding by itself, so arrangements were made for assisted feeding via a plastic syringe, containing a blended mixture of tinned sardine & water to make sure the bird ingested some energy. Some fresh water was also administered to ensure Klopp was well hydrated. Assisted feeding & hydration proved very complex given the delicate structure of the bird, its unwillingness to cooperate and its small esophagus.
The bird was allowed to rest until mid-afternoon, when bird was again checked for any symptoms of any deterioration in health. More food & water was supplied but again Klopp would not fend for itself. This assisted feeding process was again repeated in the late evening. Klopp became very restless and active during the morning hours, a behaviour perhaps typical of this species and its nocturnal habits, which in itself was a sign of good health. A small amount of food and fresh water was left inside its enclosure overnight.
The following day, Klopp was inspected and found to be in good health but it was noticed that it had not taken any food. Again the assisted feeding was conducted during the morning. After consultation with bird ringers and other local bird experts it was decided to try and release the bird that evening to make the most of the good health of the bird. The main reason for this was that given the problems in feeding Klopp, keeping it might encourage a deterioration in health, thus making a release more complicated, if not impossible, as well as risking death. Klopp was ringed at Jew’s Gate bird ring station in Gibraltar by our resident ringer, Ian lees, and allowed to rest for the remainder of the afternoon after some more feeding at midday.
Given the strong easterly winds at Europa Point, it was decided that releasing Klopp at Camp Bay which had almost no wind at all, was the best location in which to attempt the release.
At about 1800hrs I got to Camp Bay together with local birder Albert Yome (GONHS) and we discussed the best release procedure. Given the bird had spent almost a day and a half enclosed indoors, it was decided that it was best to give Klopp some time to acclimatize itself to the elements and the new surroundings. We also kept a close watch for any potential dangers such as a Little owl which had been spotted nearby by Albert, Yellow-legged gulls flying overhead and any opportune feral cats.
Upon releasing Klopp, we noticed it would turn and hop around, but didn’t seem intent in getting airborne any time soon! After over half an hour and with darkness fast approaching we put into action plan B, as leaving the bird on the cliff edge would render it a potential victim to rats which are known to frequent the area. We therefore decided to try getting the bird aloft with some ‘gentle persuasion’, but Klopp would simply fly round 360 degrees and land back more or less at the same spot.
With very little light left, we decided enable Plan C, encouraging it to fly by giving it more height from one of the nearby cliff areas. ALAS! Upon releasing Klopp, it suddenly flew around us several times with complete mastery before heading in a southerly direction, loosing sight of it in near darkness! Totally unexpected but such a wonderful moment!