On Labor Day in 2021, New England Aquarium supervisor Sarah Tempesta was enjoying a day on the beach in York, Maine, when she found a struggling wading bird. She ended up watching her throughout the day, off and on for hours, until she contacted a local wildlife facility. It was clear within the first minutes of observation that the sanderling’s wing was injured, due to it being sent at an unusual angle.
After continuing to observe the sanderling, Tempesta followed the animal as she grew more concerned about her well-being. She wanted to know if she could fly, for she tried to jump onto some rocks, but the injured bird ended up falling over. When she realized the animal could not fly, the eleven-year animal care veteran jumped into action by calling the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, hoping they could help her. That was when Tempesta told a staffer about the situation over the phone.
Since it was rare for small birds with wing injuries to heal to where they could be released into the wild, Tempesta offered the New England Aquarium as a long-term home for the sanderling. After all, the center’s mission is to cultivate and strengthen relationships between people, wildlife, and the environment.
Once it was fully established that the sanderling, named “Peepsqueak'', needed to be rescued and rehabilitated, Ms. Tempesta brought her to the center to be rehabilitated. But she first had to catch Peepsqueak and place her in a beach cooler that was draped with a shirt in order to transport her to Cape Neddick.
A few weeks later, the center notified the aquarium about Peepsqueak’s progress. Though she was recovering from her wing injury, it was determined that she could never fly again and the center wanted to know if the aquarium would take her in. It took time for Peepsqueak to come to her new home, because of permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be approved that would ensure her transfer from Maine to Massachusetts. This is because sanderlings are migratory birds that are protected under federal law.
By February 2022, Peepsqueak was finally transported to the aquarium’s animal care center in Quincy, Massachusetts, for quarantine. It’s a standard process that helps ensure the health and safety of all animals under a zoo or aquarium’s care to prevent the spread of diseases that could be hazardous. Around this time, she settled in and gained weight. On a side note, the animal care center is also known to be an active sea turtle hospital during the annual “cold-stunning” season when the waters off of Cape Cod Bay become cold enough to cause sea turtles to experience hypothermia because of shock from interacting with the freezing waters.
In March, she was introduced to the aquarium’s six other birds across four species that live at its shorebird habitat.
The aquarium staff reports Peepsqueak began digging in the sand, bathing herself, and looking for food the second she was moved into her new habitat. They also helped her adjust to a more normal diet as she continued to recover from her wing injury. She’s currently healthy. She was also integrated with the other resident birds to where she’s now interacting with them. Currently, the aquarium’s shorebird colony includes a semipalmated sandpiper, three common terms, a semipalmated plover, a threatened piping plover, and now, Peepsqueak the sanderling.
In human care, sanderlings live to their twenties. Their wild counterparts can only live for ten to fifteen years.
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