WATCH ABOVE: In parts of Canada and the United States, starving and sick ducks and waterfowl means wildlife rescues are at capacity caring for birds in need, impacted by the frigid cold. Allison Vuchnich reports.
TORONTO – The record-breaking bitter cold weather has been treacherous and deadly for ducks and waterfowl this winter.
“A lot of birds are starving to death right now,” said Chantal Theijn, who runs Hobbitstee Wildlife Refuge, in southwestern Ontario.
Hobbitstee and other wildlife rehabilitation centres are caring for waterfowl that are injured, emaciated and dehydrated.
The problem is waterfowl need open water, and with ice still covering more than 83 per cent of the Great Lakes, as well as smaller bodies of water, open water is tough to find.
“Where they normally land there is now ice, so they are flying around not knowing what to do,” Theijn told Global News, “eventually they get so exhausted they are forced to land, and because they cannot take off in flight from dry land…they are effectively stranded.”
Certain birds, such as, loons and grebes are not able to walk far for food, so whenever they land they are isolated without a food source.
With the Great Lakes serving as the winter home and migratory route for millions of sea birds and waterfowl, it’s unknown how many birds will have perished during the harsh winter, some experts say the death toll on Lake Erie alone could be in the tens of thousands.
Across the border, Tim Jasinski runs the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, the cold weather has it at capacity as well.
“If you do find an injured animal, safely get it into a cardboard box or container where the animal is quiet. No food, no water, make sure there’s air holes. Bring it to us or any licensed rehabilitator in their area,” said Jasinski.
Back in Ontario, after Theijn and her volunteers nurse the birds back to health, they are released. Those are the good days, but this year even that has been a challenge. Theijn herself has fallen through the ice, twice, releasing birds in open water. The not-for-profit has saved lives and is racing against starvation to save more.