She stood almost four feet high, a thin, willow of a bird who slowly strides with grace but also, always with purpose. That is the way of a marsh bird like a Great Blue Heron, the consummate stalker. She finally made it to an outside transition enclosure, patiently awaiting the day of her release. She towered on a platform close to staged limbs used for cover and peered beyond the caging to where she’d like to be. This GB Heron was found in a ditch in Swansboro during January 2010, emaciated, unable to walk, and too weak to eat on her own. She’s enjoyed (at least we rehabbers would like to think so) a lengthy stay at the shelter where she was provided constant care for her wounded right leg, which required antibiotics to fight infection. When it comes to feeding tubes, to ensure she was getting enough nutrition until she began eating on her own, we had to use the “big momma” of all feeding tubes because the neck of a great Blue Heron is about half the body length. Although she probably missed some of the delicacies of her usual diet in the wild of snakes, insects, and frogs, a steady replenishment of fish in her pool helped her put the weight back on she needed.
One enclosure away was another Great Blue Heron, found at the Coast Guard Station on Emerald Isle after he tangled with a barbed wire fence in February. His right wing suffered several lacerations, even exposing bone. He could not fly and was also starving, weak and unable to eat on his own. After daily, extensive wound care, antibiotics and assistance eating, he awaited release, as well. All animals have their own unique disposition, especially in the presence of people. This Heron definitely didn’t enjoy being in captivity and was quite anxious about it.
Great Blue Herons provide unique challenges to wildlife rehabilitators unlike the challenges frisky mammals and taloned raptors pose. Getting food down a GB Heron’s long neck is one, but at the top of that neck is a head wielding a sharp dagger of a beak six to eight inches long and capable of dangerous power and speed. Respect for the abilities of the Great Blue Heron is a must for a wildlife rehabilitator and precaution has to be taken such as appropriate holds and wearing personal protective equipment when working with these great birds.
Great Blue Herons are quite common in our area and many Great Blues have been admitted to our shelter for treatment over the years. And they are an awkward handful!
Rehabilitation Supervisors conferred last week and finally decided both Great Blue Heron patients were moving well, eating well and ready for release. Friday, April 16, 2010, became the last day they each had to ride in a fancy box with funny holes and a handle. After a short drive, the Herons were released in an area adjacent their natural habitat of marshlands. Watching them saunter away in that most majestic and dignified way they do was very fulfilling, but also caused an “in unison” sigh of relief among the rehabbers present. Although the Herons’ ages are not known, I’m sure they still have a lot of life ahead of them because Great Blue Herons live long lives, some as long as seventeen years and the record for a banded Great Blue Heron is twenty-four years!
It’s a new day! Enjoy it!
Author of “Save Them All”