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A Young Heron’s Reversal of Fortune:

by Kevin Mack - PAWS Wildlife Naturalist


On July 10, a young Great Blue Heron in Monroe, WA was having a bad day. He had been knocked out of his nest tree by a hungry Bald Eagle and, as he was not yet able to fly well, he had hit the ground hard. Stunned by both the attack and the impact, it seemed only a matter of time before the eagle descended and finished him off. And that likely would have been the end of this story had the man on whose property this life and death drama was unfolding not walked out into his yard at that moment. The appearance of a human caused the eagle to depart, leaving the property owner with the dilemma of what to do with the lethargic, nearly four-foot tall bird in his yard. Fortunately, he knew what to do. He brought the heron to PAWS Wildlife Center for care.

During his intake examination, rehabilitators discovered that the heron had several superficial lacerations on his body and legs. In addition, the bird’s left wing was swollen at the elbow. The rehabilitators cleaned the heron’s wounds and placed him on antibiotics to prevent an infection.

Within a week of being admitted to the wildlife center, the heron was healthy, strong and beginning to stretch his wings in an outdoor enclosure. His coordination and stamina improved quickly, and soon he was flying with grace and skill. The heron was also becoming a capable predator, his abilities honed by a steady supply of live goldfish that were placed in a large pool in his enclosure. On August 24, it was time for the heron to take the skills he had developed in care at PAWS and test them out in the real world. The following photos tell the story of his release.

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After more than five weeks in care at PAWS, the heron was released at a large wetland area near Everett, WA. Volunteer Janet Waite did the honors and opened the carrier door to set the bird free.
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After bursting out of the release carrier, the heron took flight across a nearby slough.
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He gained altitude and flew in wide circles overhead as if he was surveying the landscape.
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After circling for a minute or two, the heron decided to land on top of a footbridge that crossed the slough.
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From his perch on top of the bridge, the heron had a clear view of his surroundings.
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It was a warm morning, and the heron had likely become even warmer while he was flying. He opened his mouth and began to flutter his throat in a behavior known as “gular flutter”. This is the bird equivalent of panting.
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As the Heron sat on the bridge, three adult herons flew in from the nearby marsh and headed straight up the slough passing below the bridge. The newly-released bird watched these three newcomers with interest.
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One of the three resident herons doubled back and landed in a bush among nearby marsh grasses. The released heron took flight from the bridge and made a beeline for the bird that had landed in the bush.
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The resident bird did not appreciate being approached by this eager new arrival. With a primeval -sounding squawk, the resident bird began to chase our newly-released patient. The aggression was really just a warning for the new bird to keep his distance, so as soon as he retreated the grumpy resident gave up the chase. The released bird flew up to a high perch in a snag to regroup and decide what to do next.
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The young heron sat on his high perch for several minutes, looking around and really sizing up his surroundings before making his next move.
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Eventually he took flight once more. This time he headed south along the slough flying like he had a destination in mind. The light was such that at one point he turned into a graceful silhouette.
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The heron came to rest some 200 yards downstream, landing in the upper branches of an old snag. Confident that he was adjusting quickly to his newfound independence, we left him to enjoy his wild, free life.



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