MANITOWOC — This is no weather for ducks. As the brutal cold keeps local waterways in its icy grip, the web-footed birds are having trouble finding enough to eat.
One half-starved duck was found Monday wandering along South Eighth Street in front of the Manitowoc County Courthouse.
“A duck was in the roadway and a woman almost hit it,” said Manitowoc police officer Katie Walters. “It flew and landed on its back and then it flipped itself over and climbed up on a snowbank and just lay there until I picked it up and put it in a pet carrier.”
The duck was resting in the carrier at the station, awaiting pickup by Wildlife Of Wisconsin, a wildlife rehabilitation organization in Cato that provides food and medical care for injured, orphaned and sick animals.
“It’s obviously exhausted. It’s not moving,” Walters said. “They’re pretty weak. They don’t have a lot to eat right now. They’re in rough shape.”
This isn’t the first duck W.O.W. has taken in this winter. Another duck was turned over Sunday after it was found at the back steps of the Herald Times Reporter.
“In the last couple of weeks, we’ve received just under 20, which might not seem like a lot but is since we usually receive only one or two diving ducks in the winter,” said Susan Theys, W.O.W. rehabilitator.
No access to food
Diving ducks, so named because they dive into the water for food, don’t fly south because they can usually find food here, Theys said.
When inland waters freeze, ducks usually turn to Lake Michigan, but that’s 70 to 80 percent covered in ice this year, she said.
“What this means is that these ducks have to go into the middle of the lake to reach water,” Theys said. “Some of them can’t dive deep enough to get the food and most of it (consisting of minnows and mussels) isn’t in the middle, it’s along the lakeshore.”
When Jim Knickelbine looks out over the West Twin River at this time of the year, he usually see lots of ducks. This winter there are none.
“They are not having a good winter,” said Knickelbine, executive director of Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve in Two Rivers. “They’re expending more energy trying to find food than they normally do and all the cold weather is causing them to use up their energy reserves. As a result they’re malnourished.”
Ducks also can become stranded on ice, said Jeff Pritzl, district wildlife biologist for the DNR out of Green Bay.
When they fly around looking for open water, especially at night, they can mistake ice for water. Because of their body form, they need to run across water to take off, so when they land on ice they encounter problems, he said.
The ducks aren’t aggressive, but can be transported to the nearest open water or wildlife rehabilitator using a blanket or box, Pritzl said.
Charles Sontag was surprise when he recently found two dead mergansers in the Manitowoc harbor, a popular gathering spot for ducks during milder winters.
“This is the first year I’ve seen that kind of thing happening,” said Sontag, a retired professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc, who taught for 35 years. “I’ve seen ducks taken by hawks and owls. You expect that kind of thing.”
Manitowoc has had cold winters in the past, but the river was kept open by the car ferry and other ships that used Manitowoc as their port all year long, he said.
Big problems this winter
“Rehabilitators all along the lakeshore are getting in these diving ducks, so it’s a big deal this year,” Theys said.
She has taken in eight common goldeneyes, three or four red-breasted mergansers, three or four long-tailed ducks and a couple of greater scaups.
The ducks are being found anywhere from the Lake Michigan shoreline to a mile inland, Theys said.
The female common goldeneye found Monday had to be tube-fed to rehydrate it before it could be fed live minnows and canned clams.
“It’s lucky that people responded so quickly,” Theys said. “Once a duck is down, it usually has less than 48 hours to live.”
The ducks at W.O.W. are going through four to five pounds of minnows a day, which is about 60 to 75 dozen, she said.
“Once they have reached what we consider a healthy weight and once they are waterproofed, we release them back to Lake Michigan,” Theys said. “The water has to run off their feathers. Even if they have a spot the size of dime that is not waterproofed, it will get bigger and bigger and eventually they would drown.”
Oil from hands and minnows can diminish their natural waterproofing, so they need to be bathed in water and Dawn dish detergent to restore it, she said.
To report a duck in distress, call (920) 323-5609 and someone will respond shortly. Anyone wishing to donate money for duck food can email WOW@tm.net.
Suzanne Weiss: firstname.lastname@example.org or (920) 686-2140