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Rescued Maine sandpiper finds forever home at New England Aquarium

A sanderling named Peepsqueak, rescued from York Beach, found its forever home at the New England Aquarium thanks to one watchful beach-goer.

BOSTON — Sometimes life is about being in the right place at the right time. An employee of the New England Aquarium in Boston just happened to be visiting York Beach in September, only her second time in York. That visit turned into a lifesaving mission for a small creature most people would not have even noticed.  

Sarah Tempesta helps raise baby sharks and stingrays at the New England Aquarium but she is no stranger to birds. She's worked at the aquarium for a decade, previously with the Aquarium's shorebirds exhibit and for a wildlife rehabilitation center.

On the morning of her last day on vacation in Maine, she and her husband went to the beach. Tempesta noticed a small sanderling alone, although they are normally in groups, and with an injured wing. She watched intently until she determined the small sandpiper could not fly. 

"This bird is injured and probably won't be able to survive in the wild on its own for very long," Tempesta remembered thinking. She called the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick to see if they could care for the bird, and then with the help of her husband captured the bird and brought it to rehab. 

When Tempesta dropped the bird at the center, she knew it was unlikely it would ever fly again. She was already thinking the aquarium might be a great long-term home, especially because its only sanderling, Mr. White, died in 2021 after 25 years on display. 

Peepsqueak, as she has since been named, did well in rehabilitation but it was determined her broken wing would never fly again. 

Peepsqueak has only been at the New England Aquarium for a couple of weeks but she's in good company. All the birds at the Aquarium's shorebird exhibit are rescued animals that could not survive on their own. Peepsqueak has settled in well, has gained a couple of grams in weight , and is making friends with a semipalmated sandpiper who she likes to be near at all times. 

"I definitely come and look in on her and see how she is doing," Tempesta said outside the exhibit.

The exhibit is filled with aquatic vertebrates for Peepsqueak to find with her bill and water fresh from Boston Harbor. Sanderlings typically migrate from the arctic tundra, where they breed, to as far south as South America. While Peepsqueak will never visit another beach, visitors now come to her. 

"She is going to be a great ambassador for her species," said Alex Harvey, a staff member at the aquarium. Staff hope when visitors recognize Peepsqueak and learn about her species, they will be more conscious about sharing beach habitats with shorebirds and making sure beaches stay clean. 

Peepsqueak is a long way from where she was found in southern Maine but thanks to the watchful eyes of Sarah Tempesta, she's found her forever home. 

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