Red-necked Grebe saved
Just before Valentine’s Day, Thalia Johnstone was walking in the Durham Forest with her husband, David Coughlin. They discovered a bird on the ground being harassed by some dogs. Johnstone photographed the bird and sent it to her father, Richard Johnstone, a Toronto Zoo educator, for identification and advice on how they might help it.
Mr. Johnstone identified the bird as a Red-necked Grebe, a swimming and diving bird smaller than a loon. Grebes do not have webbed feet like other ducks. Instead they have flat fleshy lobes on their toes. Like loons, the grebe’s legs are positioned far back on the body. This makes them excellent divers, but ungainly on land.
In the winter they look rather drab with a light grey neck and breast. However, their breeding plumage is striking. They have a black cap that extends below the eye, very pale grey cheeks and throat, and a rusty red neck. Their backs and flanks are dark grey, with white underparts. Their eyes are dark and their long, pointed bill is black with a yellow base. They’re 40-50 cm long with a wingspan of 75-85 cm. They spend the winter on the Atlantic coast or Lake Ontario – certainly NOT in a forest!
Mr. Johnstone suggested they try to catch the bird and meet at Elgin Park for him to check it out. The bird didn’t show signs of injury, so they released it into Elgin Pond at the south bridge where there’s open water. It hopped onto the ground, then into the water. It’s been sighted several times since and appears in good health. If you should encounter a wild animal in distress, contact a wildlife rescue agency for advice before touching or moving it.
Nancy Melcher is The Nature Nut. Send details of your sightings or questions about the natural world to: