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Cold temperatures, thick ice causing problems for state’s ducks

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Chris Malina, Wisconsin Public Radio

Think this winter has been bad for you?  Try being a duck. 

Ducks that dive for food, such as mergansers, goldeneyes and redheads, are being hit particularly hard this winter as extensive ice cover has made open water difficult to find in Wisconsin. 

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“They’re so desperate for food, they’re going to strange locations looking for it,” said Scott Diehl, wildlife manager for the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at the Wisconsin Humane Society.  “They’re landing on roadways or wet or icy parking lots.  Given the right lighting circumstances, those surfaces look like a glistening river or pond for these birds.” 

This is leading to a lot of ducks getting hit by vehicles, he said. 

In some cases, ducks have literally been frozen to the ice. Diehl said he was called to the shore of Lake Michigan one cold day after a report of two ducks who were partially encased in ice.     

“We were able to use some of the lake water and ladle it over the frozen feet and feathers of these birds,” Diehl said.  “By working them by hand, we actually got them freed from the ice.” 

While one duck didn’t survive the freeze, the other was taken to be rehabilitated and eventually released back into the wild.    

The rehabilitation process begins with a physical exam, followed by supportive care.  Ducks in bad shape are put in an “isolette,” a used human baby incubator that’s now used to warm the birds up.  Water baths are also used to replicate a duck’s normal environment.        

If a person sees a sick or injured-looking duck in the wild, Diehl recommends calling a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for advice. In a case where the duck might be in a dangerous area, such as a roadway, that advice might be to move the duck out of harm’s way.  Diehl said people can use a jacket or blanket to cover the bird and gently pick it up, and if possible, contain it in a pet carrier or a cardboard box with holes poked in it. 

A rehabilitator should be able to take it from there, he said.

For more Wisconsin Public Radio news, go to the website at www.wpr.org/.

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