Grebe prepped for surgery
Photo by Toronto Wildlife Centre

Great Lakes ice coverage injuring arctic birds

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As frigid temperatures continue to turn our Great Lakes into an icy wilderness, even arctic birds are suffering from the deep freeze.

Grebes, the water-dwelling arctic birds who migrate to the Great Lakes during the winter, are getting injured at an alarming rate due to the lack of open water.

The birds spend their entire lives in the water or flying. If they touch down on land, they’re not able to walk or take flight again. And as of Feb. 23, the Great Lakes ice coverage was up to 85.6 percent, meaning it’s extremely tough for grebes to find an unfrozen patch.

Animal rescue workers in Southern Ontario have noticed a disturbing amount of injured grebes this past month.

Nathalie Karvonen, the director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre, says the organization is running out of space to care for all of the injured fowls.

“They’re crashing out of the sky onto ice or pavement that they mistake for water,” Karvonen said in an interview with Metro News.

This week, the centre has admitted 14 grebes either suffering from malnutrition or injures. “That’s usually how many we’ll get in a year,” said Karvonen.

Last winter was the busiest on record for the Toronto Wildlife Centre, with more than 130 birds of varying species seeking treatment at the hospital.  And this year, with new grebes being admitted daily, the Toronto Wildlife Centre is running out of enclosures and pools for the water fowls. The centre is currently seeking donations to help shelter and feed the influx of birds.

And it’s not only the grebes that are feeling the cold. Animal rescuers saved 20 geese, ducks, and swans trapped on the frozen Lake Erie last week. They also found several dead birds on the ice as well.

In an interview with CTV, Gail Lenters, the operator of the Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge, located in Pefferlaw, Ontario, said that grebes are in a fatal position.

“If the grebes land on land, they’re dead. They can’t move, they can’t get around, they can’t fly. They’re the term ‘sitting ducks.’”