Wildlife Images’ distance from any major bodies of water… like say, an ocean or large lake… means waterfowl patients are few and far between. It is quite exciting when they do arrive, though! Thursday, October 17, a call came in to the clinic that a woman was waiting with a young heron in our parking lot. The woman said she had found the heron grounded in the Applegate Valley. When clinic manager, Jen Osburn-Eliot opened the cardboard box she saw not a heron, but a species she had only seen at Wildlife Images once before.
Inside was a western grebe. This species is quite common but not as a patient. Staff did an intake exam on the feisty bird who is patient 19-995. One person held the bird’s beak while the other checked the body condition and looked for fractures, swelling, discoloration, punctures or other signs of concern. Following the intake exam, we put a hood on the grebe and did a quick x-ray which revealed no obvious issues. Despite being an uncommon patient, Jen thought she knew the reason this seemingly healthy bird was found grounded and didn’t fly away when approached by people.
This species and some other species of water birds are unable, or barely able, to walk on land. Their bodies are perfectly adapted to life in the water and their legs are physically further back on their body than most birds. Western grebes even build their nests over water. They will create mounds out of vegetation that are anchored to the floor to lay their eggs in. Grebes are only able to take off from the water and cannot get the momentum needed to take off from land. Sometimes, while flying, a grebe might mistake a wet parking lot or a parking lot with oil slicks as a lake and will attempt to land in it. Once they have landed on this flat surface, they essentially get stuck in what is called “behavioral stranding.” Since the grebe that came into our clinic had no apparent injuries awe suspect he was simply stranded and needed to be taken back to a body of water.
Swim Test in Nestle’s Pond
To test the theory of behavioral stranding staff took the patient to do a swim test. The ideal location for this at Wildlife Images is Nestle’s pond. The resident North American river otter was kept in her safety so the western grebe could have the pond all to itself. The patient was paddling his feet before he even hit the water and started diving for the fish that live in the pond. A few more minutes showed that he was still waterproofed and was a prefect candidate for immediate release.
Our Animal Care Team took the bird to the pond at All Sports Park in Grants Pass. His release went swimmingly and we are happy to report this unusual patient’s 1 hour visit to Wildlife Images ended up with him back on the water, diving for dinner.