Huh?? A Most Confusing Rescue!

Adventures of a Wild Care Volunteer, by Amy Sanders

So, it’s a rainy, windy, nasty day in early December when I get a call from Wild Care.  I pick up the phone, say “hello” and hear Jen’s voice saying “there’s a potential rescue.” “Aw, come on!” I say, “Who the heck is out in this weather to even see an animal!?”  

We chuckle and she proceeds.  A woman has reported a cormorant that has been hanging around Wellfleet Harbor. She’s sent pictures to Jen, and saying she’s seen it for a while, still in the same place (indicating she’s been there not only once, but at least twice!).  Jen asks me if I’ll check on this bird, and see if it needs help.

Well, that’s what I do.  I don my rain gear, secure my ancient dog with my neighbor and I head out. It’s a quick drive for me, only about 10 minutes.  I arrive to find the rain fierce and the winds fiercer. The tide is very high, so there’s not much beach. From my car I can see a bird tucked into the edge of the grass at the sand line. My first thought is, “This is a smart bird tucked out of the wind, not a bird in distress!”

However, I’ve been sent to actually check.  I open the car door, which gets caught with the wind and nearly yanks me into next week. But I get it closed, beat my way across the bit of sand above the water line, only to see the bird hop out of its secure place and pop into the water.  It’s a duck, not a cormorant, and it seems fine, so no rescue here. Yay! I head back to the car to report in.

Jen answers the phone.  “First,” I report, “this is a duck not a cormorant,” and second, “it looks fine to me. It hopped into the water and from what I can see, it’s just been sitting in a nice protected spot out of the wind.”  

I’m now ready to drive away. But, Jen patiently says, “No, it’s a cormorant.  Are you sure you have the right bird?”  Huh?? 

I am pretty sure I am looking at a duck.  But, I am also sure Jen is amongst the smartest bird people I know–way smarter than me.  She would not mistake a duck for a cormorant. But, I am sure I am looking at a duck. I am, right?  I know the difference, right?  I mean, they are very different looking, in posture, color and beak.  Could I really be making this kind of mistake?? 

Seriously doubting my sanity now, I head out into the weather again, because I see this bird has come ashore again.  Webbed feet, check. Duck beak, check. Cormorants tend to sit with the length of their body at about a 45 degree angle to the surface, while duck bodies are more or less horizontal to the surface, check.  This is a duck.  But Jen says a cormorant.  I look around for a cormorant and see none, just ducks.

Back to my car because regardless of what the bird is, I am sure at least that it is fine. But, I also have some redeeming to do.  I cannot have Jen thinking I am mistaking a cormorant for a duck. So, back in my car, I get back on the phone with Jen, and at the same time, I text the reporter and ask her to send me a picture too.  She texts a video of a duck. I tell Jen, the woman has sent me a picture of a duck. I now know I have this same bird in my sight, but Jen is still insisting cormorant. I hear Jen now turn to Lianna (another highly respected bird person), presumably shows her the picture and says, “Cormorant, right?” 

Lianna says, “Yes, of course.”  I am truly baffled, and so is Jen. So we agree to exchange pictures, but for me to do so, I have to use email (tech issue between Jen’s phone and mine).  So I head home, wondering all the way, what in the world is going on?

Some time later, with a few more texts and questions, we establish that Jen was in fact looking at pictures of a cormorant, and I am indeed looking at a video of a duck.  It was the reporter, who in two (or more) trips to the harbor in nasty weather, was in fact looking at two different birds, tucked into the lee of the dune.  The coloring she saw was close enough that she thought it was the same bird, and called to have the bird checked on.

In case you are ever embarrassed that you might not know what kind of bird you are looking at when you report it to us, don’t be.  I’ve been at this for three years, and still don’t know for sure many of the birds I am looking at (and I do not know what type of duck this was, only that it was a duck). Very few reporters actually correctly identify the type of bird they are looking at. I go prepared for anything, even a whole lot of confusion!


If you find an animal in
distress, please call us at:


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