Rainy weather brings some challenges for birds that fly at night. The pavement, often a dark color, is wet and in the moonlight it looks like water. These birds think they are landing on water and when they hit the payment, they take a big tumble. Often, they are disoriented, scraped up, and need a little ‘R & R’ (i.e., rest and relaxation) to gather their strength again. Some species of birds have to put their wings into the water to take off again and so when they land on a road, they need to find water to take off again. Often, birds like loons, whose legs are placed far back on their bodies, simply cannot walk on land the distance it takes to get to water. That is where people can help. We call these cases “road strikes.”
So, when an American Coot got grounded on the tarmac at the airport, the question came up again. Coots are members of the rail family and are structurally a little like chickens. The family name isGallinule which is the Latin name for chicken. These birds do not have to put their wings in the water but they have very unique feet and they run for an extended period on the top of the water with their wings beating hard to get up into the air. Their feet are delicate and can easily be damaged on rough concrete or other road surfaces. So, while they can take off without human assistance, they still take the physical hit and disorientation with the landing on the hard surface. Often, people see them and easily catch them just after a hit and bring them in to a wildlife care facility for assistance.
And so it was with this coot. Luckily, its feet were not physically injured, it had excellent blood values, and came in at a good weight for this species, was waterproof, and basically needed little help from us. We found a wetland near where it came down this week and returned it to a life in the wild.
If you cannot already tell, being a good wildlife rehabilitation organization requires knowledge about the biology and habitat requirements, never mind knowing the local migration ‘in and out’ dates, to do professional quality work. South Sound Critter Care is lucky to have two staff members with college degrees having solid backgrounds in biology. Our college interns also bring biology skills every year to the center and for that we are grateful. We all care about animals, but it takes a lot of biological and veterinary knowledge to work with the animals successfully.
Jan White, DVM