It’s common knowledge that roads are dangerous places for wildlife. Usually, this danger comes in the form of cars, trucks and other fast moving vehicles, but did you know that the pavement can be dangerous to animals even when no cars are driving on them? A Western Grebe we received at the PAWS Wildlife Center last week was a victim of this little-known danger.
Many species of grebes and loons spend the summer breeding months on inland, freshwater lakes. In the fall these birds migrate to Puget Sound and the Pacific coast to spend the winter in saltwater bays. They make frequent stops to rest on lakes, rivers and ponds during their migration, but the bodies of water they see from the air are not always what they appear.
From the air, wet pavement looks an awful lot like water. The illusion frequently tricks loons and grebes into coming in for a landing. The birds usually don’t realize their mistake until they are on the ground and by then it’s too late. Many are injured during their surprise hard landing, and even those who aren’t find themselves in dire straits. Loons and grebes can only take flight from the water. They are highly adapted for aquatic life, and their legs are attached to the very back of their bodies. On dry land they have extreme difficulty standing, and their small wings and heavy bodies make a stationary take- off impossible. Once grounded the birds are doomed to starvation or predation if no one comes to their rescue.
Thankfully, the grebe who we recently received was rescued. He had landed on pavement in Bothell, Washington, less than 15 miles shy of his Puget Sound destination. At PAWS we checked him for injuries (he had none) and made sure his feathers were still in good shape and waterproof. He stayed with us overnight and received a few free meals of fish before being released into Puget Sound the following day. Hopefully he will not run into the same trouble next spring when he makes the journey back to his freshwater breeding grounds.