I am a runner, and while running is definitely good exercise, and good meditation, and good travel through the local habitats, I had never before thought of it as a good source of dead waterbirds. But on an evening run the other day, as I trotted past a local farm and the onlooking goats, I spied an unfamiliar dead bird on the gravel shoulder. Roadkill is not unusual, for sure, and my brain initially dismissed the bird as yet another dead pigeon. Something didn’t seem right about it though, and as I passed by, I saw the gray bill with the prominent, vertical black stripe. “Whoa!” I yelled to no one in particular, or to the goats, and skidded to a stop. “A pied-billed grebe,” I muttered to the goats. And indeed it was. I stashed the carcass under a shrub, hoping the farm dog wouldn’t find it, and continued on the outbound leg of my run. On the way back, I retrieved the bird and carried it by its lobed feet, its head lolling by my knee as I ran the remaining 3/4 of a mile back to my house.
This is not the first time I have carried a dead bird whilst running; I once cradled a lovely scarlet tanager corpse for a full 3 miles back home. But this grebe seemed dropped very nearly in my lap by divine providence, for this is one of the species whose photos I still lack for the Field Guide to Beached Birds of the Southeastern United States. I jogged up the slope to my house and yelled to my husband to grab my camera. He is totally unfazed by my habit of running home with dead animals, so he obliged, and I took the photos on my back stoop in the fading light. The bird had not been well preserved in the recent heat, and was unsuitable for taxidermy. I tossed the carcass in the woods, and by morning, it was gone, making a good meal for something that haunts our neighboring swamp.
I went to sleep happy that night.