Horned Grebes have been landing and becoming stranded all over the Schuylkill, Berk and Carbon counties. These small “loon-like” birds are fish eaters and built to live on water. Their legs are set far back on their bodies for swimming, not walking. They also begin flying by swimming and then running atop of the water to get up speed. Once they are on land they become quite stranded, only able to perform a short “waddle” back to the water.
If they get stranded away from water they cannot survive. Occasionally in the winter when the rivers freeze over and streets become glazed with frost, birds can mistake a road for a river, land and get stranded.
We had over 40 one year. We received a call that about 50 “ducks” landed in the mall parking lot and all had broken both legs. That year even our largest river was frozen solid. We had to get permission to enter the Tyson power plant property to release them. It’s the only place that had open water because of the plant. That was pre- 911 days and security wasn’t so tight. Can you imagine me entering a NP plant today with dozens of boxes in the back of a pick-up?
This year it’s happening again but there are plenty of open rivers yet so these birds are getting checked and released the same day. I snapped some photos and a quick movie of one right before being driven back to the river.
The goldfish in the video is just a snack. We usually feed live minnows if we need to keep them any length of time. If they are only coming in and going right out, and are in good shape, they get a couple small fish to test their depth perception. If there is any underlying head trauma their ability to aim properly is usually affected first. This guy had no problem.
Lori (volunteer who released this grebe) called later that night to say it was a successful release and the bird looked so happy to be in the river. It immediately dived and started feeding. I try to have volunteers release when I can. It’s a great reward to see the closure to all the feeding and cage cleaning they do.