Frozen lakes and the recent spring snowstorms have conspired to ground migrating loons and grebes in parts of northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota.
The late-season snow and ice storms forced the aquatic birds to land in areas where they normally wouldn't stop, and the lack of open water has given many of them almost nowhere to take off or land, the Duluth News Tribune reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/10tAYa7 ).
Marge Gibson, director of the Raptor Education Center in Antigo, Wis., said her rehabilitation center has rescued 51 loons in the past two weeks.
"We have reports of them just dropping out of the sky into cow pastures or trying to land on wet roadways that must look like water to them," Gibson said.
Loons and grebes are well adapted for swimming and diving, as well as taking off and landing in water. But loons can't take off from dry land. Their legs are too far back on their body for them to walk. Even if they land on small ponds, they sometimes can't take off because they can need up to a quarter-mile to become airborne. Grebes tend to be ungainly on dry land but can run for short distances.
Ice is melting off northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota lakes about two weeks later than normal.
"With most of the lakes in the north still frozen, it limits their options for landing. But in some cases they may not have had any options; they were just forced right down to the ground by the storm . like an airplane icing up," Gibson said.
The Wildwoods Rehabilitation Center in Duluth has rescued one loon but more grebes than it has ever handled before, said Farzad Farr, a wildlife rehabilitator there.
"I've lost count. It's many more than a dozen," Farr said.
Peggy Farr, married to Farzad and also a wildlife rehabilitator, said grebes, like loons, migrate at night. With most lakes still frozen in the region, the birds apparently have been desperate for places to land, confusing dark, wet pavement with water.
"People are finding them in their yards, in parking lots, along roadways," Peggy Farr said. "This is unprecedented. . We really need people to know that, if they don't help, these birds won't make it. They are helpless on land."
Peggy Farr and Gibson said anyone who finds a loon or grebe should gently capture it and release it in a large body of water if it doesn't have obvious signs of injury such as a broken wing or leg.
"It's not that hard to capture them. Just throw a blanket or towel on them and put them in a box. But look out for that beak; it's a weapon," Gibson said. "But please tell people not to release them in a small pond. They need a lot of space to take off."
Page 2 of 2 - Loon strandings have not been common in Minnesota, Carrol Henderson, nongame wildlife program supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources.
"If they have rescued 51 (in Wisconsin) there's probably a whole lot more that landed in the woods or other wild places that will never be found and will just die," Henderson said. "It's really an unusual and sad situation."