As the fall weather is turning colder and winter is around the corner, we would like to bring attention to an issue that leads to one of our common wildlife admissions in fall and winter. A number of water birds in Manitoba, such as grebes, loons, and pelicans, are diving birds that need large bodies of water to land and to take flight. Shiny surfaces such as wet or frost covered roads and frozen lakes and ponds can be mistaken for open water and can be a major cause of injury and even death for diving birds, as they become trapped on land.
Birds tire from flying or from chasing prey, and they become desperate for a place to land, mistake the glistening of wet or snow and ice covered roads for bodies of water, such as lakes and rivers. In particular, some birds, such as grebes, migrate at night, which contributes to the confusion, as street and head lights can cause the roads to glisten. As a result of these mistaken landings, birds will crash and be left helpless and stranded on land and they may even be injured. Unfortunately, injuries such as a broken wing or leg are also common.
Even if they aren’t injured, diving birds cannot navigate on land, because their legs are placed so far back on their bodies that they are unable to walk easily. They also cannot take off to fly unless they have a large body of water. If they are not rescued, they can become injured simply from resting on a hard surface, they can become dehydrated, and they may die of starvation. Uninjured birds may only have cuts and scrapes on their feet and they will be able to take off if they are brought to a large body of water from which they will be able to take off.
If you are unsure of the bird’s condition or need help with a rescue, please contact the Wildlife Centre. If you do attempt to rescue the bird, please take note of the bird’s location, then use a large towel or blanket to throw over the bird. Eye protection and gloves are strongly recommended and please be careful of the bird’s beak. Diving birds use their beaks to spear prey, so it can cause a lot of damage and they may strike for the eyes. Hold the beak closed as you transfer the bird and place it in an appropriate box to be dropped off or picked up by a wildlife volunteer. Please keep the bird in a quiet, warm, and dark place and give it water until it can be either set free or brought to the Centre. Bedding such as a towel or blanket is advised, but please do not feed the bird unless you have spoken with a wildlife hospital volunteer. Please call PWRC at 204-510-1855 as soon as possible for further assistance or for more information.
*Article originally printed in Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre newsletter.
For more information or to become a member and subscribe to the newsletter, please visit the PWRC website: http://pwildlife.ca/.