Wedge tail shearwater chicks lose their fluff as they age. The
Wedge tail shearwater chicks lose their fluff as they age. The"Mr T" look is a favourite with CQUni researchers. Contributed

Baby birds on Heron being fed plastic by parents

PLASTIC marine debris is threatening nesting bird populations on Heron Island, with CQUniversity researchers discovering more than 20% of wedge tail shearwater chicks have been fed plastic by their parents.

Researcher Krista Verlis said studies revealed that adult birds often mistake pieces of plastic for food, or catch fish which have eaten plastic and then feed it to chicks born on the island.

"Plastic does not break down and every piece of plastic that has been made will continue to exist," she said.

"Marine debris like buckets and bottles, as well as rubbish blown off the island such as straws and cigarette butts, all break-up into smaller pieces and contribute to the problem."

Ms Verlis said 62.5% of plastic fragments found were light in colour, suggesting they had been mistaken for small fish or cephalopods that live on the surface.

"We use a gentle flushing procedure then assess the stomach contents of the birds," she said.

"The biggest plastic piece found was 0.18 grams and all the fragments floated, indicating they were near the surface of the water when ingested by the adult birds."

She said if the content of plastic debris in the ocean keeps increasing people will be ingesting plastic when they eat seafood too.

"The data from Heron Island isn't as bad as Hawaii, with 60%, or Lord Howe Island with 43% of chicks showing evidence of plastic ingestion," she said.

"But plastic should not be part of their diet or ours, and we need to do something about it."

Shearwater facts:

  • 13,000 wedge-tail shearwaters breed on Heron Island each year.
  • The birds live on the island from September to May.
  • Their exact migration is not known, but they can be found on the Pacific and Indian Oceans islands for the rest of the year.
  • An average chick is 430-560 grams in weight.
  • Chicks are fluffy and lose their fuzz as they get older.

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