provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife
An adult Pied-billed Grebe (#22-1102) was admitted March 27 from Cape Coral after being found upside down on the road and not moving. Upon further examination, CROW staff noticed the grebe was thin, severely dehydrated, and suffered some head abrasions. X-rays revealed the grebe had a fractured coracoid bone in the left wing. The patient will continue to be monitored under supportive care and strict cage rest as it recovers.
Pied-billed Grebes are small waterbirds found in the family Anatidae; this family consists of 170 species. Waterbirds, also known as waterfowl, comprise of about 180 living species of birds in three families. Other examples include ducks, loons, swans, magpies, geese, and screamers. Common characteristics of these animals include webbed feet, round bodies, long necks, and small wings. Waterfowl usually nest on the ground near bodies of water.
Because grebes have their legs far back on their body, it is difficult for them to walk on land. Grebes therefore spend most of their lives in the water. Their diet consists mainly of fish, but they have also been seen eating salamanders, crustaceans, marine worms, grasshoppers, and aquatic insects and their larvae. Grebes dive deeply when hunting, swimming with their wings mostly closed. To capture prey, they jab quickly using their bills, or capture prey between the mandibles. During their baby season, females will make floating nests in the water. Once hatched, chicks will spend much of the first week riding around on a parent’s back.
Grebes cannot take off from land due to their unique body features. The Latin genus for “grebe” means “feet at the buttocks” due to their placement. This placement helps them to propel themselves through the water. Lobbed (not webbed) toes also aid in their swimming; however, due to their aquatic adaptations, they walk awkwardly on land. Oftentimes, grebes will land on paved roads thinking it is a dark body of water, then get stuck on land. Pied-billed grebes can trap water in their feathers, which they use to control their buoyancy. Similar to alligators, grebes can sink down just below the surface, only exposing their eyes.
Interestingly enough, they will also eat large quantities of their own feathers. At times, feathers can fill up to more than half of the grebe’s stomach and are sometimes fed to newly hatched chicks. The feathers create a buffer in the stomach acting like a plug protecting them from hard, potentially harmful prey parts passing into the intestine. Additionally, it helps form the indigestible items into pellets, which they can regurgitate.
In addition to Pied-billed Grebes, Horned Grebes can also be found in Southwest Florida. They have a different coloration than the Pied-billed, usually cinnamon brown and black with yellow tufts behind the eye (Pied-billed Grebes have an overall darker brown or black tint on their feathers). Horned Grebes have similar behaviors to the Pied-billed, similar diets, and similar habitat and nesting grounds. Their feet are also placed towards the back of their bodies, meaning they are mainly found in the water throughout their lives. Besides being found on pavement, grebes will also come in with systemic disease or potentially hit by a car. If you find a Grebe on the road, contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center.
THIS WEEK AT CROW (3/28-4/1):
There were over 50 new patients admitted to CROW this week, including 3 common grackles, six eastern cottontail bunnies, a Florida softshell turtle, 5 gopher tortoises, two northern mockingbirds, two ospreys, a pied-billed grebe, and a red-shouldered hawk. Recent releases include An eastern cottontail bunny and an eastern box turtle. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases.
Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year!
Want to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation? Stop by CROW’s Visitor Education Center at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.