Puget Sound and the Pacific coast serve as wintering grounds for a variety of birds that spend their summers on freshwater lakes. Among the species that make the journey from freshwater to saltwater and back again are many that are so highly specialized for aquatic life that they are are incapable of taking flight from solid ground. Unfortunately, when viewed from the air, light reflecting off of wet pavement looks very much like light reflecting off of a body of water. Some birds are unable to tell the difference until it is too late.
Such was the case with a migrating Horned Grebe that was transferred to PAWS Wildlife Center on October 29 from Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Bellingham. The grebe had been found floundering around on a road on Lummi Island. The impact, and his subsequent attempts to walk on the asphalt, had caused abrasions on the grebe's feet and lower legs. He was also thin and slightly anemic. Fortunately, the radiographs that we took of the bird showed that he had not broken any bones.
The Horned Grebe was feisty despite his ordeal. His feather condition was good and his waterproofing was intact. He readily ate mealworms and small fish that we offered to him. After only four days in care the grebe's weight had increased by 15 percent, and his anemia had resolved. On November 2, we helped him finish the last leg of his journey to Puget Sound.
Wearing gloves to ensure that his feathers were kept clean, PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager Emily Meredith place the Horned Grebe gently in the water. He began kicking excitedly as he saw his winter home laid out before him.
Once he was in the water, the grebe swam a short distance away and then paused to flap and shake his feathers back into alignment. He then ran on top of the water and took to the air, making a short, looping flight around the bay.
The grebe landed very close to the spot from which he had taken off, and then he noticed that he was not alone. Another Horned Grebe had spotted him and was swimming steadily toward him. The grebe we had just released seemed eager to make this new bird's acquaintance, and he swam to meet the oncoming stranger.