The Plover & The Hair

The wobbly tracks of a race against death

New Jersey’s great wildlife photographer and long-time Reader Wayne Morley was doing his thing at Barnegat Light when he stumbled upon a sloppily stumbling PIPL. He quickly reported the limping bird who appeared to have a leg injury.

While Wayne couldn’t read the small, colored bands on the tiny hobbler in the bright sun, he did report two adult PIPL nearby acting like total lunatics. Sounds like Mustache BYLL, Myrtle, and lil’ Flapjack! Time to investigate.

Michelle Stantial quickly locates Flapjack in the dune, who was barely able to walk and hiding in the shade of some dune grass. It only took her one glance to see the problem. She yells out, “It’s human hair!”
The strand of snarled hair was tightly knotted around Flapjack’s legs, ankles, and toes, causing significant swelling, some small cuts and bruises, and was getting worse by the hour
Nicole Kirkos examines the tangled mess
This is not going to be easy
Beginning the delicate operation
It takes a skilled, steady hand
Slowly but surely
After a successful surgery, Flapjack recovers in the million dollar baby bag with a mangled, but free, little foot

Several things are remarkable about this.

First, human hair?! Who knew? While we don’t always see it, our beaches are actually quite hairy. We brush, we comb, we shed. When we think of threats to PIPL on the beach we think of big things like trucks, and fox, and beach rakes. Or more obvious anglers like balloon ribbons and old fishing line. Yet a single strand of human hair can do in a bird quite quickly. It’s more common than you might think.¬†I don’t know much about regular birds, but supposedly some people like to clean their hair brushes and toss the excess hair into their backyards so birds can use it for nesting material. This event shows why that’s a bad idea. Hair is fine, strong, and knots easily.

Secondly, thanks to Wayne’s sharp eye, his compassion, and his quick reporting, Flapjack is alive.

And lastly, I’ll say again how lucky we are to have Nicole Kirkos out on our beaches, helping our animals. These still photos mask some of the chaos and difficulty of this seemingly simple surgery. ¬†Flapjack was stressed, wriggly, and kicking the whole time. While she was working, and elderly couple was yelling at her from a distance, telling her to leave the birds alone, that they are endangered (which is awesome and was the right thing for them to do, it was just distracting in this delicate instance!)

One tiny, false move and he could have lost a toe or suffered a seriously deadly laceration from either the hair or the scissors.

Her calm, cool, skilled hands made quick, expert work of it. My hands and camera were shaking just documenting it. Nicole is truly amazing.

Michelle examines Flapjack, and sends him back to us

Thanks to Wayne, Nicole, Michelle, and Dennis for freeing our little Flapjack. Poor Mustache BYLL & Myrtle have already lost Cinnamon Bun and Cyclops. Flapjack is their last and only hope.

Always report injured PIPL to Christina “Kashi” Davis if you find one. A quick response can make all the difference.

And if you are really, really passionate about helping our local animals, maybe consider eating a more hair-healthy diet. And using more conditioner.