To Get Your Hands On A Seabird You Have To Go 'Grubbing'
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
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JULIET LAMB: I think as a seabird biologist you kind of develop, a bit, your own language just being away from people and talking about things that people wouldn't ordinarily talk about.
BLOCK: That's Juliet Lamb. She's getting her PhD at Clemson University in South Carolina, and she offers this insight into her world of seabird biology with just one word.
BLOCK: And what does grubbing mean?
LAMB: What it means is - so there are several species of seabirds that live underground in burrows - like, puffins are sort of a famous example but other species related to them. So they'll live either in burrows that they dig out of the ground in the sod or they'll live underneath boulders in these, kind of, caves. And when we want to work on them, like, either to weigh and measure them or to put bands on them to collect data, we have to actually go into the burrows and get them out because it's a lot easier to get them out of a burrow than to capture them when they're flying or walking around. So what we call that is grubbing and it's basically just the process of going underground and getting a bird out of a burrow.
BLOCK: And describe what you mean by going underground. What do you have to do?
LAMB: Well, for the birds that live in sod burrows, it's a little bit easier. You just kind of stick your arm in as far as it'll go until you can feel a bird and sometimes you can get to the end of the tunnel and sometimes you can't. But for the birds that live under boulders, it's a little bit more of a puzzle. You sort of have to figure out how you can get into the burrow entrance by sort of crawling under boulders and sticking your head around like little cracks and crevices and poking your fingers. And sometimes we use tools, like a bit of wire with kind of a crook on the end that we can use to hook around their leg and pull them out a little bit.
BLOCK: But it doesn't hurt them?
LAMB: No, it doesn't, no.
BLOCK: And if you're going in under the boulders and stuff like that, how deep and how far are you going?
LAMB: It depends. Sometimes it'll be just a few feet underground and sometimes you have to kind of crawl through a tunnel (laughter). Yeah, it's a little bit messy given that it's birds and they're sort of living there.
BLOCK: And once you get in there, what kind of reception are you getting from the birds?
LAMB: (Laughter) They're usually not very happy. There's a bird called a razorbill that nests underground and you can kind of imagine how they got that name.
LAMB: It was probably somebody sticking their hand in the burrow and realizing how sharp the bill was.
BLOCK: So what do you do about that?
LAMB: You would either wear gloves or just kind of let them grab on. And sometimes if a bird grabs you with its bill, it makes it easier to get out 'cause then they're holding onto you. So you can kind of pull them out a little bit more easily.
BLOCK: You know, I'm wondering, Juliet, if there's ever a point when you're crawling around in a burrow and getting completely messy and it probably doesn't smell very good and you're thinking what exactly am I doing here?
LAMB: (Laugher) I think the thrill of the chase is exciting enough that, in the moment, you don't really think about it that much. Then after you get out and look down at yourself, you kind of think oh, wait a second.
BLOCK: Yeah, I bet. Juliet Lamb, thanks so much.
LAMB: Thank you, Melissa.
BLOCK: And you can see photos of Juliet Lamb and the thrill of the grubbing chase. They're posted on our Facebook page at NPRATC. And while you're there, please send us your own trade lingo.
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