Local wildlife rehab caring for a coastal bird blown in by last week’s snowstorm
The bird is expected to continue migrating south on its own later this week.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — This time of year, American Avocets should be well on their way to the coasts of Mexico and the southern United States.
Last week, on a snowy day that broke records for cold October temperatures, one Avocet was found frozen in the middle of the road in South Routt County. The woman and her family got the bird to Born Free Wildlife Rehabilitation in Steamboat Springs.
“I knew it was unusual to have shorebirds still here,” said Tracy Bye, who operates Born Free.
Though she knew it didn’t belong, she wasn’t positive of the bird’s species. She called her resident bird experts, two eighth-graders who really know their feathers. One of them, Grey Barbier, immediately identified the bird.
“He goes, ‘That’s an American Avocet. They shouldn’t be here!’ Bye said.
She contacted the International Bird Rescue, an organization that rehabilitates birds on the West Coast. They told her how to care for the bird, what to feed it and how to release it.
American Avocets are a wetland species. According to the Audubon Society, they breed in the western United States and then migrate to the coast for winter. They can be found year-round on coastlines of California and Texas. Bye guessed that this one blew in from breeding grounds in Utah.
The Avocet will likely be able to make its own way south, Bye said.
It’s eating well on a diet of marine animals that Bye found at Elk River Pet and Ranch, including brine shrimp, bloodworms and tubeworms. It’s living on a makeshift beach in Bye’s garage: a dog kennel filled with sand and astroturf.
“I wanted him to eat really well so he could be well on his way to a warmer climate,” Bye said.
On the advice of other wildlife rehabilitators who have cared for Avocets, Bye plans to let the bird go on its own on a warmer day ahead of calm weather. She added that it would likely be set free later this week as temperatures warm into the 50s with sunny skies.
However, if the bird gets stubborn and tries to stay in Routt County — where it’s got an unlimited supply of shrimp and a cozy kennel — it’s going on a road trip to California for Thanksgiving. Bye is heading to Santa Barbara to meet a family member later this month, and if the Avocet’s still around then, it’s coming with her to the International Bird Rescue’s facility in Los Angeles.
“There’s Avocets in California down there on the beach, so I can take him with us,” she said.
Born Free sees a lot of native raptors, owls and common songbirds, Bye said, but it’s the first time that she’s received an Avocet in 27 years of rehabilitating animals.
“I also got in today a ruddy duck, and I’ve never had a ruddy duck,” she said. The duck came to her with an injured bill, possibly due to a collision with a car.
“It just might be one of those years where I get to experience really cool new things. I love it. An Avocet? Now I love them. Just learning about them — they’re really cool birds,” she said.
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