Swans, ducks getting frostbitten feet due to the bitter cold winter


This year's deep snow and extreme cold have taken a toll on Minnesota wildlife—especially ducks, swans and other waterfowl that can't find open water on the state's many frozen lakes. The birds are suffering from frostbite and other injuries related to the cold weather, MPR News reports, and some are being treated at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota.

"They have to stand on ice a lot more than they usually would have to. And that's really hard on their feet," said veterinarian Agnes Hutchinson, as she wrapped a swan in towels before treating him. He "probably got caught without anywhere to go and protect his feet, and he just got frostbitten."

More birds are also starving because they can't find enough food on land, according to the Associated Press. Since more water has iced over the birds are looking for food over land, according to Phil Jenni, the center's director.

"That's when they start to have trouble. They start to really starve to death, land in fields. And a lot of times those are the animals we're getting in right now," said Jenni, according to the Associated Press.

Without open water, the birds are also more vulnerable to attack from raptors and other predators, and more likely to fly into power lines and other obstacles, according to MPR.

All over the Midwest, swans, mallards and even loons have been stranded by the coldest weather in more than 30 years. For example, rescuers along Lake Michigan in Milwaukee have brought six times as many diving ducks into the Wisconsin Humane Society for treatment.

In early March, a veterinarian at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center amputated the ends of the toes of a juvenile trumpeter swan and cut off some of the webbing on its feet to treat a case of frostbite.

The bird was found in the snow under some power lines in Monticello, according to center officials. It had frostbite on its feet and had lost quite a bit of weight.

When frostbite occurs on waterfowl, the webbing is usually the first area to show it, according to center officials. The tissue dies and sloughs off, and although it looks unpleasant it is not painful to the birds.

The remaining webbing should allow the swan to swim and walk normally, and center officials say the bird should be released back into the wild in a few weeks.

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