Duck in recovery at wildlife center

This is a photo of a bluebill duck (lesser scaup) that is being rehabilitated at the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center. It was discovered by conservation officers with the department of game and inland fisheries and transported to the center Feb. 20. Its bill was cracked and damaged and its wing was frozen when the officers found him. Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Wildlife Center

Conservation police officers from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries recently rescued a bluebill duck — or lesser scaup — after discovering it immobile on Stoney Creek in Edinburg.

Dan and Mark Hyman, conservation officers for the department, discovered the duck while driving near the creek on Feb. 20 and, after getting a closer look, noticed that it had a frozen wing and damaged bill.

According to Dan Hyman, the case seemed unusual in that he had never found a duck in that kind of situation before.

Lesser scaup is a migratory species of waterfowl that primarily lives in the northwestern portion of the United States near Canada. During the winter, scaup will migrate to warmer climates such as Virginia.

Mike and Dan Hyman then transported the duck to the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center in Boyce, where staff members are treating, feeding and preparing the duck to be reintroduced to the wild.

Dr. Belinda Burwell, director for the center, said the scaup is in recovery and the staff is monitoring the healing of its damaged bill.

“He’s already starting to use his beak again. He couldn’t when he first came in,” Burwell said, noting, “He’s even biting at us, so we know he’s feeling better.”

According to Hyman, the back half of the duck’s wing was frozen. “When I went up to get it, it did move and tried to fly, but couldn’t and got back into the water.”

Hyman explained, “[Mike] went upstream, so the duck wouldn’t want to go upstream.”

At that point, the duck floated back toward Dan and he was able to grab it.

Department officers and wildlife center staff are unsure how the duck’s beak was damaged in the first place.

Jessica Anderson, wildlife rehabilitator at Blue Ridge Wildlife Center, said the frozen wing was most likely the result of this damaged beak.

“Waterfowl will actually preen themselves, and when they do that, they secrete oils over their feathers and that keeps them waterproof,” Anderson said.

Without this preening, watered-down wings can freeze — like it did in this case — and can prevent animals like ducks from flying.

According to Anderson, they had to “put some adhesive” on the duck’s beak due to the damage on the left side.

Burwell said they also had a splint that was in place for about three weeks to “hold the fracture stable.”

According to Anderson, the duck has “actually gained a little bit of weight, and he’s actually starting to eat … on his own, which is good.”

Burwell said this case is part of an unusually large volume of waterfowl cases they have seen in the past month.

“We saw species that we had never seen before, some migratory ducks that we assume were probably migrating through,” Burwell said.

In fact, Anderson noted that the center has seen 10 total cases of injured or starving waterfowl between Feb. 20 and Thursday.

A good number of the cases, Burwell noted, were birds and waterfowl that were starving or in poor condition.

“I think it had to do with the fact that, normally we would have some open water around here this time of year, but it was all frozen,” Burwell said.

The center kept the animals until the weather shifted, according to Burwell. “We were just fattening them up, feeding them and treating their injuries.”

Burwell said that the center has been able to heal and release a few of those cases within the past week. None of the birds admitted to the center have resulted in fatalities.

In a normal winter season, Burwell said the center usually sees “hardly any” waterfowl, save for the occasional Canada goose.

“Most of the species would be migrating north now,” Burwell said. “With the bad weather and lack of open water, some of them got grounded.”

For the lesser scaup, Burwell said the center is looking to release it to the wild within the next week.

Anderson said the center is “in the process of seeing how [the beak]” heals moving forward. “It looks like a lot of the tissue is still alive and trying to heal.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com