Grounded with no where to go!!
This morning a fellow employee came into the office saying “Tom, we have an injured bird in the snow!!” He told me how “a bird watcher found this bird and asked if he would go get some help”. I agreed to help out and while looking for a box; I started asking questions like “how big was it?”, “what was it doing” etc.. I quickly realized that the bird being described was probably a grebe species. I went down the hall and asked “Randy” a fellow naturalist to give me a hand with the bird.
We did a little searching around the crash site and found the bird hiding under a shrub. The tracks around the shrub made me guess that it had been taken down with the snow storm from the previous night. It easily could have been there over 12 hours waiting to be saved. I looked around for any others that could also be grounded but felt confident that this bird was the only one there. As we approached the bird took off running (ever try chasing a bird through almost three feet of snow?)!! I quickly grabbed it and took it back to the truck to be placed into a box.
This is a Red-necked Grebe where I did a quickly check for any injuries. As expected this Grebe was perfectly fine and just needed to be returned to open water. Grebes, Loons and many other ducks have their webbed feet located in the back of their body. These unique feet helps them with diving in deep water and then quickly capture the fish that they are chasing. Although it helps with swimming it doesn’t help the birds when trying to taking flight from a snow bank. They need to run on top of the water for about 100 + yards and with enough speed that they can take flight. Unsuccessful to find the needed water and they will risk the chance of being eating by a predator or even starving to death.
Before releasing this Grebe, I first needed to placed a numbered metal band on its leg. If ever found again the band will help us track it back to Allegany State Park. Due to their unique leg shape, I needed to flatten the band to perfectly form around its leg. I took a few more measurements and off we went towards the River.
This time there were three of us naturalist heading out for the big release. We discussed where to let it go and of course Ninehtotoo5 was right. I ended up taking us to an area where the Allegheny River was completely frozen over. Quickly we turned around and off towards Salamanca where we hoped to find a section of the Allegheny River that was open. We found a perfect spot where Common Mergansers, Canada Goose and Black Ducks were swimming and a path to walk down. We headed over to the waters edge and I will let the video continue the story:
I gave the honor of the big release to Randy who is always there when I need help with something (like taking some of these pictures and holding the bird when I banded it). As you can see in the video he was a little nervous letting it go and the Red-necked Grebe found its own way into the river. Just after the release the Grebe started drinking water (and probably very thirsty). As you can see in the edited photo below, it would stick its head under water, and then slowly allow the water to roll down its neck. We must have witnessed this bird a couple dozen times take some drinks (while also quickly swimming to the other side of the river). We then left the poor bird alone where it probably would soon start diving for fish and then gain some strength to continue its migration (to wherever its going).
I hated the fact that these birds are so helpless when grounded like this but very thankful that some birders know well enough to ask for help when needed. We only find the Red-necked Grebe along the Allegheny River maybe once or twice a year (during the month of March). This was an unusual find and glad to report this bird is now safe doing what it does best.
Ok, had to add another picture of it swimming. I love this shot below because you can see the band on its left leg.