The recent stormy weather on the coast has brought an influx of Western Grebes to Chintimini. In the last several days, 10 have been admitted and more are expected to arrive.
Grebes are great swimmers and divers but due to the placement of their feet very far back on their bodies, their ability to walk on land is extremely poor. And if that isn’t enough of a problem, they can only take flight from a substantial amount of water by “running” on the surface to get airborne.
This leaves many grebes in danger if they mistakenly land on the ground. For example, when migrating (which they often do at night) if they spot a wet parking lot or a roadway below, they may land on the pavement thinking the surface is a lake or river. Because they cannot walk or fly, they become ‘grounded.’
Our recent patients are believed to have been blown off course because of the high winds on the coast. Once grounded they are unable to find food and by the time these struggling birds arrive at Chintimini they are emaciated and hundreds of grams underweight.
Aside from feeding them back to a healthy weight with plenty of fish, they require a lot of attention and care from our Animal Care Staff and volunteers. This includes at least three swims per day and drying time in between each swim.
They also require special features in their enclosures to accommodate their keels (chests) which lean forward naturally when flying or swimming. One of our amazing volunteers designed custom mesh hammocks for the birds to rest on. But with so many coming in, we need more materials to make more grebe hammocks.
We are optimistic that we can return the grebes to their natural environment after they have time to recover, return to a normal weight and their feathers are ‘waterproofed.’
Waterproofing is a very time consuming process in which seabirds are bathed in Dawn dish soap so their feathers repel water again in order to keep them dry, warm and afloat.
If you would like to contribute to the rehabilitation of these special birds, please make a tax deductible donation to Chintimini Wildlife Center.
In the mean time, watch two Eared Grebes enjoying “swim time” at the clinic.
Written by Mary Estes / Animal Care Director & Jen G. Pywell / Volunteer.
Photos by Mary Estes. Video by Jen G. Pywell.