Traverse City Record-Eagle

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February 16, 2014

Ice cover a threat to many Michigan waterfowl

LANSING — Near-record ice and less open water on the Great Lakes are a growing concern for the safety of waterfowl in Michigan.

Licensed wildlife rehabilitators say they have seen a “profound” increase in reports of waterfowl stranded on roadways that they confuse with open water.

Once they land, some so-called "diver" birds cannot take off again because their bodies are adapted to lifting off from water.

Northernaire Wildlife Rescue owner Susan Good said she’s fielded at least 50 calls this year about stranded waterfowl. Typically her Cheboygan County business receives about six stranded bird reports each year.

The Department of Natural Resources Traverse City Field Office has dealt with at least 20 to 25 incidents of waterfowl stranded on roadways this year, up from about one case a year, wildlife habitat biologist Steve Griffith said. Several were run over by cars.

“They could starve if they’re left there,” said Katie Keen, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife technician in Cadillac.

The increase in ice this year may have left waterfowl struggling to find open water, Keen said.

On Feb. 12, total ice area on the Great Lakes reached about 88.4 percent, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Great Lakes Forecasting System. The ice cover is up from 79.7 percent the previous week and nearing the 1979 record of 95 percent ice cover on the Great Lakes, according to administration data.

A high number of reports of stranded waterfowl have come in from across the state, Keen said. But reports from the Lower Peninsula aren’t surprising to one rehabilitator.

About three weeks ago, Jerry Maynard, president and founder of Chocolay Raptor Center in Marquette County, noticed flocks of birds headed south and similar reports on bird observation blogs.

He said he hasn’t seen many waterfowl in weeks — a strange occurrence for an area that typically offers many bodies of open water.

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