Buoying storm victims

PAWS helps rescued grebes gain strength

By Janice Podsada

Herald Writer

LYNNWOOD — G-9 and Y-85 are not happy. Unfortunately, there’s no way for Jenny Schlieps to tell the pair of squawking seabirds that the freshwater dunking they’re about to receive is for their own good.

Schlieps and other staff members at the Progressive Animal Welfare Society in Lynnwood have banded, weighed and fed more than 75 Western grebes.

The black-and-white coastal seabirds with the "punk haircuts" and orange eyes arrived at the wildlife center Thursday.

Earlier in the week, heavy winds tossed them onto the beaches near Ocean Shores, where they were trapped by the pounding surf and coastal gales. Coated with sand and debris, they lost their natural waterproofing, said PAWS wildlife naturalist Kevin Mack.

"When they try to swim," Mack said, "they sink."

Western grebes spend almost all of their time in the water; their water-resistant feathers protect them from the cold and wet. But if they’re coated with sand, the birds become waterlogged. Not even a seabird can stay afloat zipped into a soggy down jacket, Mack said.

Even if the birds could waddle ashore and try to clean themselves, they would likely freeze to death or be swept back into the surf and drowned.

"They’re not built to be on land," Mack said. "They even build floating nests."

A couple who live near Ocean Shores plucked the seabirds off the beach and drove them to the wildlife center Wednesday night.

Many of the grebes are molting — in the process of losing their feathers — which is a vulnerable time for birds.

"They don’t have their flight feathers, so they weren’t able to escape the storm," Mack said.

Staff and volunteers at PAWS have been working around the clock to bathe the incoming birds. Five freshwater tanks were set up Thursday in the basement of the wildlife center.

"They’ll get several baths until they can float," Mack said.

After each bath, volunteers place them in drying pens. The birds are kept warm with heat lamps or blow dryers.

Not everyone agrees with the wildlife center’s efforts. Some naturalists say that humans shouldn’t interfere with the natural selection process. If an animal can’t fend for itself, nature should be allowed to take its course.

The financial resources spent saving the birds are much better deployed in conservation efforts, said a naturalist with Seattle’s Burke Museum.

PAWS’ philosophy, however, is that the individual animal is important, Mack said.

"All of our money comes from private donations. People contribute money expecting us to help wildlife.

"In the grand scheme of things, you couldn’t say that 70 birds returned to the wild will make a difference," he said. "But we believe they are important, and these birds have seen a decline in population."

Mack said that most of the grebes should be healthy enough to return to the wild sometime next week.

You can call Herald Writer Janice Podsada at 425-339-3029 or send e-mail to podsada@heraldnet.com.

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