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John Myers, Forum News Service, Published May 08 2013

Frozen lakes, ice storms cause loons, grebes to crash from sky

ANTIGO, Wis. – Late-spring snowstorms and frozen lakes are causing problems for migrating loons across northern Wisconsin where, in some cases, they have fallen out of the sky onto roads, farm fields and other places where they can’t take off.

In Minnesota, grebes, a smaller water bird, also have been crashing on land where they, too, can’t walk or take off.

Marge Gibson, director of the Raptor Education Group in Antigo, said her rehabilitation center has rescued 51 loons in the past two weeks, by far the most ever.

“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.

The problem is two-fold, Gibson said. Late ice on many northern lakes has left loons with little or no place to land and take off. Meanwhile, late-season ice and snowstorms in some cases have forced loons down where they normally would never land.

Loons and grebes are perfectly adapted for swimming and diving and taking off and landing on water. But, once grounded, loons are unable to take off. Their legs are located too far back on their body for them to walk on land.

Even if they land on small ponds they sometimes can’t take off because they need a longer takeoff area, up to a quarter-mile in some cases.

Ice is melting off northern Wisconsin and Minnesota lakes about two weeks later than normal and more than a month later than last year.

Wildlife rehabilitator Peggy Farr and Gibson said anyone who finds a loon or grebe should be able to 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. They warned rescuers about the bird’s sharp beak.

“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.”