Many birds migrate at night. One problem with Eared Grebes flying at night, is that not all shiny objects below are really bodies of water. In Bloomington Ranches, an Eared Grebe made a crash landing on something he thought was water and turned out to be a shiny tarp covering a trailer near Art and Jillyn Cottam's home. A mistake of landing in the wrong place for most birds is just a moment where the bird looks around and says "Huh", realizes it was a mistake, and takes off again. For Grebes, a mistake of landing in the wrong place, usually has fatal effects. Grebe's legs aren't made for walking or running on land, and if they get stuck on land, they are there until they find the security of water. Grebes are made for swimming and diving. Their legs are set way back on their body which makes them the perfect diving birds. When diving and swimming, the legs act more like a propeller on a submarine to give them motion. This body design works very well when pursuing fish in the water or harvesting underwater vegetation. The leg and body design that works so well under water hinders the grebe's ability to become airborne on land. Much effort is used to get a running start on the water surface, picking up speed with a combination of flapping wings and running feet until they build up enough acceleration to launch into the air.
A few years ago, during an evening rainstorm, a flock of migrating Grebes flew over a major highway, bordered with lights at a junction, which from the air looked like water below. They landed only to find it a hard, rain soaked road. The results . . . they were many miles from water and no way to take to the air.
The Grebe that landed in a Bloomington Ranches backyard was stuck there all day. Lucky for the Grebe, he was found and cared for by Jillyn Cottam who made a call for help and help came before a predator came. The Grebe was rescued and turned loose at a pond. Immediately upon being returned to the water the Grebe began swimming, diving, and hunting . . . trying to make up for a day out of water, in someone's backyard.
Brenda Rusnell is our artist this week. Her drawing pictures an Eared Grebe in breeding attire (yellow tufts), and an Eared Grebe you would see in winter. Learn more about the unique peculiarities of bird life at the upcoming St. George Winter Bird Festival January 27, 28, 29, 30, 2011. Check out the schedule on line at www.redcliffsaudubon.org and www.sgcity.org/birdfestival or pick one up at the St. George BLM, 345 East Riverside Dr. For more information call 435 673-0996.