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Arctic bird spotted in Acton last month after storm; thick-billed murre found ‘emaciated’

A thick-billed murre was spotted at a home in Acton on Jan. 17.Austin Sharpe

Austin Sharpe was cleaning snow off his car on Jan. 17 in Acton when his wife, from inside the house, saw a strange bird land on the other side of the car, he said.

“She comes running out, and she’s, like, ‘You gotta come. Quick, quick,’ and I went around the other side of the car because I had no idea what she was talking about,” Sharpe, 42, said in a telephone interview. “And right in front of us was this black and white bird standing up on its two feet, and it looked just like a penguin.”

The bird was a thick-billed murre, a species that’s common in the Arctic region but not in Massachusetts, said Wayne Petersen, director of important bird areas at Mass Audubon.


“They breed as far south as Newfoundland, but they’re really a high Arctic nester,” Petersen said. “In other words, they’re not the sort of thing that anybody’s likely to see unless they’re either traveling north or if they have the unusual opportunity to be offshore in the winter, which is where they spend the winter — at sea, typically.”

The bird was likely displaced because of Winter Storm Izzy, which had gusts of wind up to 70 miles per hour near the coast. Strong storms, Petersen said, can often displace seabirds.

“A lot of these things ... can’t either feed adequately under the ocean turbulence conditions, or they literally get exhausted trying to battle the winds, and they get displaced — and in many cases, they die,” Petersen said. “They’re either found dead or exhausted on beaches or coves and things along the coast or in extreme cases, they get carried inland.”

Sharpe said he and his wife approached the bird and realized it was injured because its wings were “flopped over a little bit.” He said it was “bigger than a large chicken standing up.” After stumbling upon a YouTube video, he said, he figured out what species was outside their home.


Sharpe called several places that wouldn’t accept the bird because certain facilities needed a license to take in a migratory bird, he said.

Tufts Wildlife Clinic at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton agreed to take the creature in, Sharpe said.

The bird was “severely emaciated but did not have any injuries,” according to a statement from Dr. Maureen Murray, director of the wildlife clinic.

The statement said the seabird was “outside of its normal range on the coast.”

Murray said the murre was hand-fed and given fluids until it was strong enough to eat on its own. The bird was also put in a pool to test its swimming abilities and to ensure that its feathers were waterproof, Murray said.

“Once back in the water, the seabird swam well, began eating ravenously and started gaining weight rapidly,” she said.

On Feb. 2, the bird was transported to the Cape Cod branch of the New England Wildlife Center and was released at the coast on the same day, Murray said.

This sighting is the second recent sighting of a bird not native to Massachusetts. In December, a rare Steller’s sea eagle was spotted in Mass. near the Taunton River, which was most recently spotted in Boothbay Harbor, Maine on Jan. 24.


Matt Yan can be reached at Follow him @matt_yan12.