February 3, 2014

Horned Grebe

You never know what you might find on your doorstep.

A few weeks ago we got a call from someone at the Loon Mountain Ski area in Lincoln, reporting a strange bird sitting on the steps of the ski lodge. The person thought it was a Grebe. They brought it to the Science Center and sure enough it was a Red-necked Grebe. This close relative of the Loon breeds in the arctic and usually spends the winter months on the ocean (or on unfrozen sections of large inland lakes). Like the Loon, they are clumsy on land -- having legs positioned far back on their bodies and need a “water runway” to get airborne. They are perfectly adapted for a water-based lifestyle, diving under water to catch small fish and breeding on freshwater lakes and ponds. Loons and Grebes have both been recorded grounding themselves when they inadvertently land on open areas of tarmac which from the air they mistake for open water. Once on the ground they are unable to get airborne again.

When the Red-necked Grebe was dropped off, our animal care staff quickly assessed that it was uninjured and we quickly decided that the best course for this bird was to get it to open water (the ocean) as quickly as possible. Director Iain MacLeod put the call out to the New Hampshire birding community and an old friend of Iain’s – Dick Hughes from Exeter – came to the rescue. He and his daughter drove up to Holderness, picked up the carrier with the Grebe and headed for Seabrook Harbor where the bird was successfully released.

Imagine our amazement when the next week, we got a call from a resident in Plymouth saying he had a “baby loon” on their doorstep. Once the bird arrived here, a quick look determined that it was a Horned Grebe – a slightly smaller close cousin of the Red-necked Grebe. Iain put out the call and two more long-time birding friends of Iain’s – Sylvia Hartmann and Jane Hills came to the rescue. They drove up from Manchester and ferried the Grebe down to Seabrook for a successful release.
So . .  where might these Grebes be coming from. Iain’s best guess is that they are heading for the ocean after losing open water on the Great Lakes or Lake Champlain. Perhaps this very cold winter has frozen over sections of these lakes that haven’t frozen in recent winter. These Grebes were the lucky ones that were able to escape the ice and after mistakenly landing on solid ground were found and rescued. Hopefully these two little lost visitors have a second chance – thanks to some kind helpers.

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