by Kyle Sweet, Superintendent, The Sanctuary Golf Club, Florida Master Naturalist
The Pied-billed Grebe is found throughout ponds and lakes with emergent aquatic vegetation, such as cattails and bulrushes, throughout North and South America. They are found all year – round in Florida and due to our abundant aquatic vegetation, they can often be seen on our golf course lakes at The Sanctuary. Although mostly solitary, these small brown birds often make their way to larger water bodies to join small flocks during the winter months. They are expert divers and use their chunky bills to eat large crustaceans along with a variety of fish, amphibians and insects. Their compact, relatively small bodies, slender necks and seemingly missing tail make them relatively easy to identify.
What you might also identify in this photo of a young Grebe is the plastic ring around its neck. Grebes can swim very shortly after hatching and somehow this little one ended up with a “necklace” of sorts probably from a very young age. The bird was spotted by a golf course staff member and due to the plastic band it was moving awkwardly and was weakened, allowing its capture. Removing the plastic band was no issue and was followed by a quick trip to CROW, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, located on Sanibel – Captiva Road here on Sanibel.
Each year, CROW cares for 3,500 wildlife patients, including 200 species of sick, injured or orphaned wildlife. CROW accepts all native wildlife in need of care including migratory birds and employs a full-time Board Certified veterinarian with several years of experience of working with wildlife and wildlife rehabilitators. For both residents and visitors alike, CROW, one of the world’s leading wildlife rehabilitation centers, is a very valuable resource in aiding injured, sick or orphaned wildlife from our barrier islands to other reaches of Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties. A quick call to CROW, (239) 472-3644, when encountering wildlife in need can help them prepare for your arrival with the animal or summon one of many volunteer couriers to come pick up the animal in need. CROW has a fantastic, interactive and educational visitor education center that is a must see for those that live on the island or are just visiting to enjoy Southwest Florida. It’s a must see on Sanibel for sure!
Unfortunately, our Pied-billed Grebe story does not have the happy ending that I wish it did. Upon arrival to CROW it was quickly determined that the young Grebe was dehydrated and emaciated, undoubtedly due to the plastic band around its neck. Soon after arrival, the young bird passed and the CROW staff reached out to us to thank us for bringing in the bird and passing along the sad news. Plastics and wildlife don’t mix very well and CROW has seen their share of these problems. Although this was a first for me, wildlife rehabilitators have these findings all of the time and can’t stress enough that proper disposal of fishing line, plastic grocery bags and plastic caps and bottles when protecting our native wildlife. It’s our responsibility to understand that just one piece of garbage can affect or destroy the life of an animal.
With the busy season approaching, Sanibel will swell to capacity once again and interactions with wildlife will increase. Be vigilant and keep your eyes out for wildlife and when encountering an animal in need please reach out to CROW. They are there to help and I’m sure that there are plenty of happy endings ahead!