When National Trust Wildlife Rescue Volunteers, Mars Van Liefde and Lois Blumenthal were called to identify a duck brought to Island Veterinary Clinic, they knew that there were many species of birds that might be called a duck.
Still, they were surprised to find a Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) swimming in the stainless steel dog-bathing sink in the veterinary surgery.
‘I was very happy that Ms Van Liefde was available and able to identify the bird,’ said Ms Blumenthal, who manages the program for the Trust. ‘Males and females can look very different and this is complicated by the variant colouration and feathering of juveniles and by mating plumage. Furthermore, all water birds have different feeding and migration needs. They also use different habitats: for instance, some need fresh water and some live in salty or brackish water. Finally, from a rehabilitation standpoint, some can survive in captivity and some cannot.’
All this means that rescuing a bird can be very complex if it is to survive.
The Scaup was found by a local family in their swimming pool and seemed to be unharmed, though a bit weak and confused.
‘Lesser Scaups are known to migrate to the Cayman Islands during the winter months, with most arriving during November. They are divers, not dabblers and need a deep pond in which to find food,’ explained Ms Van Liefde. ‘Since this female had no injuries, and was eating well, we wanted to release her as soon as possible, but most local ponds are quite shallow and unsuitable. I remembered a deeper man-made pond in Newlands, and though we were unsure whether it was still there, we packed up the Scaup in a pet carrier and headed off to see. Happily the pond was there and even inhabited by a few coots and a heron, so we felt it would be a healthy spot for release.’
‘The Scaup seemed to agree that the pond was ideal,’ said Ms Blumenthal. ‘The bird began to squirm and struggle as soon as she saw the water, and was only too glad to swim to the far reaches of the pond.’
Ms Blumenthal went on to explain that the important message is that a duck is not just a duck but may have very special requirements for survival.
Anyone finding wildlife in trouble is urged to call the National Trust Wildlife Rescue volunteers at 916-6784 and if possible, take the animal to Island Veterinary Services.
‘The other important point, of course, is habitat conservation, emphasized Ms Blumenthal. ‘If the pond wasn’t there anymore – and it’s on private property which could well have been filled and developed – then where would these wild birds find food on their long migrations north and south?’
This bird, though a frequent winter migrant in the past, is now uncommon in Cayman due to loss of suitable ponds. Wild ducks are considered to be economically valuable in the ecotourism industry because birders from all over the world will travel to destinations like the Cayman Islands, in hopes of seeing new species, and water birds are the easiest to find reliably in specific areas.’
Mr. Frank Roulstone, General Manager of the National Trust noted that the Wildlife Rescue Project was completely managed by volunteers and the Trust was grateful to these dedicated people for all their hard work and donated expertise.
‘Many Trust projects would be unattainable without our volunteer base and we encourage anyone who would like to become involved in any aspect of the Trust’s work to visit our headquarters temporarily located in Old Webster House, across from the Sunset House parking lot.’
If you find an injured or confused bird or other wild animal, call the National Trust Wildlife Rescue Volunteers at 916-6784 and if possible take the animal to Island Veterinary Services as soon as possible. The Wildlife Rescue Project will cover the veterinary costs but is always in need of donations. If you would like to help, send checks to ‘National Trust Wildlife Rescue’ Box 31116 SMB.