An eared grebe fallout Monday night brought down as many as 10,000 birds in the area near the US Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. It was a foggy night, with some reports of snow, when the thousands of birds started to rain down.
Robbie Knight, a wildlife biologist for the base, said that visibility was less than 20 feet. Apparently, some grebes believed that they saw water instead of land. Their calls attracted the rest of the flock.
Eared grebes fell out of the sky over an area of about two miles by 30 miles, including the Skull Valley Indian Reservation as well as Dugway.
Grebes are not ducks. The eared grebe has feet placed far back on its body, so it can’t walk very well. Yet these birds can’t take off from the ground. Despite these restrictions, it’s a highly migratory species that migrates between breeding grounds in southwestern Canada to as far as Guatemala for the winter.
In the sudden fog and snow Monday night, many of the grebes crash-landed. Some were hurt, and others were instantly killed.
However, healthy birds were also left helpless, because they couldn’t lift off. Therefore, human helpers were needed to pick up the eared grebes and load them into a truck so that they could be taken to water.
Wildlife biologist Hal Mitchell, who assisted in the effort, estimated that as many as 10,000 birds fell from the sky, with 5,000 being successfully released into the ponds.
In that incident, wildlife officials said that they thought the grebes confused the shiny surface of a WalMart parking lot, football fields, and other icy surfaces with bodies of water where they could sit out the storm.
Susan Tyner posted video of that fallout rescue, with assistance from Southwest Wildlife Foundation CEO Martin Tyner, which shows healthy Eared Grebes being returned to the water.
Thanks to hard-working wildlife rescue workers, thousands of fallen Eared Grebes will fly again.
[eared grebe photo Kat+Sam via Flickr and Creative Commons]