It’s that time of year again. Migratory birds are hitting the road and heading for their overwintering grounds. But the birds aren’t just hitting the road metaphorically. In some cases they're doing it literally. That's the case with a Western Grebe who was found stranded on the shoulder of a road in Gold Bar, WA. Fortunately, he was scooped up by a concerned citizen and brought to PAWS for care.
From the air, the wet pavement looks a lot like the surface of a lake or pond. The illusion is so convincing that migrating birds sometimes come in for a landing on a road or in a parking lot, not realizing their mistake until it is too late. Grebes, loons and a few other groups of water birds are so specialized for their aquatic life that they struggle to walk or even stand on dry land. They are also small winged and heavy bodied, so taking flight without first running along on the water’s surface is not possible. Even if they don’t suffer injuries in the process, a crash landing on pavement puts them in a life-threatening situation.
The Western Grebe that we received from Gold Bar was very lucky. Not only was he found quickly after he became stranded, but he also managed to avoid injuring himself or soiling his feathers during his unfortunate landing. After spending the night in a pool at PAWS, and eating all the fish he cared to eat, we drove him to Edmonds where wildlife rehabilitator Raina Domek carefully placed him in the water.
Western Grebes nest on freshwater lakes and ponds, but migrate to the coast where they overwinter. This individual was likely on his way to Puget Sound when he decided to take a rest on what turned out to be solid ground. At his release, he seemed a little surprised at first to discover that he was back in his element and free, but he quickly embraced this positive change in his circumstances.
After swimming a short distance, the grebe rose up out of the water and shook his body to realign his feathers. In the resulting photo you can see how far back on his body the bird’s legs are situated. This configuration is excellent for propelling the bird through the water, but it is also what makes it so difficult for them to stand on dry land.
As the grebe departed, he was swimming in the direction of a ferry loaded with cars. In less than 24 hours the bird had gone from sitting on the road to sitting on the water, but cars were still passing him by. At least this time, it was the vehicles, not the bird, that were out of their element.
For the next month or so, please keep an eye out for stranded, feathered travelers along roads and in parking lots. And if you find a bird in need of help, please give us a call.
Found an injured animal? Contact PAWS