Arctic Seabird, ‘Exceedingly Rare' to Be Seen Inland, Found in Acton After Storm

A family in Acton, Massachusetts, spotted a bird later identified as a thick-billed murre in the snow outside their home after a nor'easter

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It wasn't the discovery the Sharpe family was expecting to see in Acton, Massachusetts, after a January nor'easter.

"I saw this bird that looked like a penguin land right by our garbage bins," Abby Sharpe said.

She called her husband over, as they both watched in awe.

"There was this bird that was standing completely upright on two feet, just like a profile of a penguin," Austin Sharpe said.

The family didn't know what the bird was, but they did know it appeared to be a long way from home.

"It appeared like it was injured, it wasn't moving super well, it was nestled into the snow," Abby Sharpe said. "I have not seen anything like this ever, around these parts."

There's a good reason for that. Experts say the bird that landed in the Sharpe's yard is a thick-billed murre.

"It's an Arctic nesting bird," explained Wayne Petersen of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. "Most people don't see them unless they spend a lot of time in the Arctic in the summertime, or at sea in places you don't really want to be in the wintertime."

Julia Parrish, a professor at the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences, says it is very rare to see a murre inland.

"The thing about murres is they are water birds, so to see them on land, in the non-breeding season, even just up on the beach, is very rare," she said. "To see them in an urban environment, in somebody's backyard, that is exceedingly rare."

The Sharpes were eventually able to get in touch with the Tufts Wildlife Clinic at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, which started treating the murre.

"It was severely emaciated, but did not have any injuries," Dr. Maureen Murray, director of Tufts Wildlife Clinic, said in a statement. "Veterinarians provided fluids and hand fed the murre until it became strong enough to start eating on its own."

Murray says the murre was then put in a special pool at the clinic to test the bird's swimming abilities and if its feathers are still fully waterproof.

"Once back in the water, the seabird swam well, began eating ravenously and started gaining weight rapidly," Murray said.

The murre was then transported to the New England Wildlife Centers, where it was set free on Feb. 2.

The Sharpes are glad the murre is back where it belongs.

"We are all very invested in this story," Abby Sharpe said.

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