Thursday, 23 January 2014

Waterfowl in the deep freeze

With the cold weather we have been having we are experiencing a huge influx of waterbird like ducks, swans and geese.

A lot of these birds are actually migratory stragglers and I enjoy the variety of species we get, but a lot of them really don't belong here during this season.

Some of these animals are indeed in need of care, but a lot of them are not.

With this very cold weather you can expect waterbirds to be a little slower moving than usual. You might also notice them sitting down a bit more. This does not mean the animal is in trouble, but the bird is tucking it's feet inside it's feathers to protect them from freezing.

This domestic Musckovy Duck does have two feet, but she has one tucked inside her feathers for warmth
Waterbirds are well equipped to deal with these temperatures. They secrete an oily substance they rub all over their feathers. This oily substance causes their feathers to be waterproof and therefore they do not get wet nor feel the cold.

Basic physics teaches us that water starts to freeze at 0 degrees Celcius and the birds will have no trouble with cold feet while swimming in near freezing temp. water. However with the temperature of -10 or colder on land (factor windchill in) those webbed feet can easily get freezing cold. To prevent frostbite birds will crouch down so that they can tuck their feet in and keep them warm inside their fluffy down coat.

Waterbirds can sustain frostbite to their feet. Injuries of that nature do require treatment and we really appreciate peoples assistance in getting these birds to us. 

Waterbirds do not freeze to ice if they keep their feathers well oiled. A bird who does freeze to the ice is always a previously sick bird who has been neglecting it's feathers and will also be in need of help.

There is a number of waterfowl who are unable to take flight while on land. A loon for instance needs open water before it can take off. If you find any of these birds on land we can also help and would appreciate help getting these birds to us. It is hard to write a list of all types of birds with this problem, but these type of waterfowl have a very hard time walking on land. Their feet are simply not made for walking and that should be a good indicator.

Most often we get stranded birds such as loons after a storm. They will look for water to land on during a storm and sometime mistake the shimmer of wet pavement for water, land on it and subsequently they can not take off again.

These type of stranded birds come here, get assessed  and if they are healthy we will return them to open water so they can continue on their migration or their life whichever the case.

In cause of doubt, feel free to contact us. We are always happy to help when we can.

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