Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Great Blue Heron Gets A Second Chance

by Catherine Greenleaf

Each year, I see a good number of Great Blue Herons at the bird hospital. When I think Great Blue Heron I think Pterodactyl. Their size and look always make me think of prehistoric dinosaurs. They are so tall and have such a wide wing span, they can get into all kinds of trouble. Most of the injuries I see are in first-year juveniles, who aren't wise to the ways of the road. They fly too low, trying to move from one marsh to another by crossing a road, and get hit by cars. Broken bones result in lengthy rehabilitation stays, and I can often have a heron with me for a month or longer.

The photo above shows a juvenile Great Blue Heron being released into a bog in Canaan, N.H. (You may have to click on the photo to see the enlarged version). This youngster was brought to me by a young woman in Canaan, who found him walking across her front lawn. He could barely move and spent a great deal of time kneeling down on the ground, making him likely prey for predators like fox and coyote. She put him in a box and drove him over to my facility.

I was aghast after I put him on the scale. At the end of the summer, a juvenile heron should weigh at least 900-1,000 grams, since a fully grown adult can weight anywhere from 1,600 to 2,500 grams. But this little guy was barely hitting 700 grams and was extremely weak. It is always dangerous when a juvenile heron drops below 800, since without proper nutrients and fluids, internal organs can start shutting down one after the other, leading to death. He could not fly because he had starved off all of the muscle on his keel. Without muscle along the keel, a bird cannot lift off to fly. He was grounded.

But after several rounds of special avian electrolyte fluids and medications, he appeared to be willing to fight to stay alive. That's all I needed to see, and I was happy to join forces with the bird and try to see the situation to a happy ending. I fed him a special liquified diet, loaded with essential minerals. After the third day, he was able to ingest dead whole fish until he gained enough energy to start jabbing live ones with his ultra-sharp beak. After two and a half weeks, he had gained enough weight to be able to fly again, and I knew it was time to take him back to the wild. Good luck, little fellow!

Photo by Phoebe Kilham                       Copyright 2014