As winter draws to a close, the harsh reality of our near-record cold is now being seen up and down the shores of Lake Michigan as hundreds, if not thousands, of diving ducks succumb to the consistent cold stretches that have locked much of the big lake in ice.
Ducks such as common goldeneye, scaup, mergansers, and other waterfowl, as well as loons, that dive beneath the open water to feed on mussels, fish and other prey have been unable to do so due to thickening ice.
Dead, dying or severely malnourished ducks are being found up and down the shore from the Illinois border to Door County and Green Bay.
Recent headlines of the fishing boat out of Two Rivers that cleared harbors in that city, as well as Manitowoc, to provide open water for waterfowl to feed has provided only a temporary fix, as the waters soon froze solid once again.
According to Tom Erdman, who researchers and studies waterfowl and other birds and collects carcasses for the collection at the Richter Museum of Natural History at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, these birds are succumbing to a consistent, long-term, unbreaking pattern of severe cold that has depleted their access to natural food sources.
“I recently picked up dead waterfowl from Green Bay Wildlife Sanctuary from this late winter kill. The birds are very thin and have used up most of their pectoral muscle mass,” he said.
Their weakened condition prevents them from flying long distances to seek out open water areas inland, such as the Fox River, Wolf River and other areas where food and open water are still available.
Many of the birds, in this condition, attempt to land on roads and other surfaces that resemble waterways and are then unable to lift off.
Because of their build, diving ducks require open water as a runway of sorts to lift off. Their legs are set far back on their bodies, making them awkward on solid surfaces.
The expected warm-up over the next few weeks may be too late to prevent death by starvation for hundreds if not thousands more of these specialized birds.
— Rob Zimmer: 920-419-3734, email@example.com or on Twitter @YardMD