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Waterbirds having tough winter in Michigan

PLAINWELL, Mich. (AP) — People aren't the only ones suffering through Michigan's record-breaking winter.

Waterbirds such as grebes, mergansers and loons are struggling, too, because their normal areas of open water have frozen over.

In foggy, snowy conditions that create low visibility, exhausted birds are landing on iced-over highways, roads and driveways, which may resemble open water from the air.

Once they are out of the water, the birds are helpless, unable to take flight or even walk on land, state Department of Natural Resources biologist Mark Mills said. Grebes, mergansers and a few other species have feet that are placed far back on their bodies to allow them to dive for fish. Because of that placement, the birds are not able to take off from dry land.

"They can't get any traction to run and take off," Mills told the Kalamazoo Gazette.

The stranded birds can starve if they are not found and returned to the water in a timely fashion.

The phenomenon happens nearly every year, but reports of stranded waterfowl have been high this winter, officials said.

"Plainwell was (a) hot spot in January," Mills said of the Kalamazoo-area community, with a few calls coming in each day.

DNR staff members were able to retrieve one young loon and keep it in the Plainwell operations building overnight.

"They took him out to the Kalamazoo River, and he swam and swam," Mills said.

The DNR is asking state residents to keep an eye out for stranded birds and to contact a local wildlife rehabilitator if they spot one.