A HIGHLAND ferry has been turned into an aircraft carrier – for crashed baby seabirds.
This autumn, almost 170 Manx Shearwater chicks crash-landed on the Island of Rum and in the nearest mainland town of Mallaig.
Kind-hearted rescuers nursed the birds back to health but they are almost incapable of taking off on dry land.
So a special deal has been negotiated with ferry bosses to give rescuers free passage with their cargo of stranded chicks.
The birds are then released from the deck and free to continue their long migratory voyage to South America.
Confused by street lights, the chicks have been falling out of the sky above Mallaig and Rum for years but the ferry solution was only recently negotiated.
Martin Carty, who lives on Rum, joins volunteers to rescue the chicks.
The 59-year-old said they used to relaunch the baby bird from a high point above the sea.
“We had a very good release point but more and more gulls were waiting for us to release the chicks and then attacking them.
“Caledonian Macbrayne allow us a free pass.
“We are allowed to go out as many times as we like. We have had kind permission to release them from the ferry.
“You don’t want to throw them too hard. We gently release them slightly upwards. We don’t want them to blow back onto the boat.”
Volunteers can make as many as three trips on the Coruisk in one day to release the birds.
A total of 177 were rescued and ferry-launched this autumn. On one night in recent years a total of 150 fell.
The birds are confused by town lights and circle until exhaustion means they drop out of the sky.
Mr Carty said: “They drop out of the sky like it’s raining.
“I was picking one up when another one hit me on the backside. They might fly into a wall, or they hit the ground and they bounce.
“Sometimes they’re stunned for a few minutes but I’d say 99 per cent of them are OK. It’s exciting and worrying at the same time.”
Two students from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, helped out this year. Filipa Goncalves (correct), a life science student, said: “Due to their physiology, they are not able to take off very easily from a flat surface.
“We searched for them every night, released the birds from the ferry, which is a good high spot to help them fly, and wished them a safe journey to the South Atlantic.”