Wednesday, April 7th, 2004

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PAWS Mailing Address:
PO Box 1037
Lynnwood WA, 98046

PAWS Physical Address:
15305 44th Ave W
Lynnwood, WA 98037

Kevin Mack
A Happy Blue Day
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

On November 5th, 2003, a nearly four-foot tall bird stood alone in a parking lot in Blaine, Washington. She was not there by choice. Her right wing was hanging down at an odd angle, and she was unable to do the one thing that her instincts were undoubtedly telling her to do... fly away. Confused, afraid, and in pain, she desperately needed help. Fortunately for her, it is difficult for a four-foot tall bird in the middle of a parking lot to go unnoticed. It was not long before help arrived.

Help came in the form of construction workers who spotted the injured great blue heron and took her to Wildlife Rescue, Inc. in Bellingham.

Great Blue Heron

A radiograph of heron 03-4343 showing her fractured metacarpal bones.

Wildlife Rescue, Inc. personnel examined the bird and found that she had suffered a severe fracture just below the "wrist" joint in her right wing. They cleaned the heron's wounds (caused by the broken bones puncturing the skin), and immobilized the wing to prevent further injury. They also started her on antibiotics to help ensure that she did not develop an infection. On November 8th, the heron was transferred to PAWS, and she was entered into the wildlife center database as case # 03-4343.

Radiographs taken at PAWS showed the extent of heron 03-4343's injuries. Both the major and minor metacarpal bones at the end of her right wing were fractured, and she had also suffered a fracture of the left clavicle. The fractured clavicle was fairly well-aligned, and seemed likely to heal on its own; however, the metacarpal fracture would require surgery if the bird was to have any chance of flying again. She had a very long road ahead of her, but the heron proved over the following weeks and months that she was a survivor.

Great Blue Heron

Heron 03-4343 bursts out of the carrier to freedom.

It took four surgeries and more than four months for heron 03-4343 to fully recover. Two surgeries were performed to place bone pins and external fixators in order to stabilize the wing fracture. Another surgery was performed to remove a small fragment of bone that was protruding through the heron's skin. During the bird's final surgery, part of the bony callus that was forming at the fracture site had to be debrided. In addition to the surgeries, the heron received regular physical therapy (under anesthesia) to ensure that she did not lose any range of motion in her wing. It was quite an ordeal, especially for an animal that had no way of comprehending the intent behind all of those activities. Heron 03-4343 took her treatment, and the stress that went along with it, remarkably well. She remained strong and healthy throughout her stay at the wildlife center, and in the end her resilience paid off.

On March 22nd, 2004, the great blue heron was once again in Blaine, but this time she was not in a parking lot. She sat in a carrier on the beach at Semiahmoo County Park, completely unaware of the what was about to happen to her.

Great Blue Heron

The heron puts her newly-healed wing to good use.

Two hours earlier she had been flying frantically around a flight pen, trying desperately to avoid a net. She had then endured the confinement of the carrier, and the rumble and confusion of a very long car ride. She could not have known that those were the last challenges that she would have to face before regaining her freedom, but she was about to find out.

The carrier door was opened and the heron found herself facing an enormous bay with a seemingly endless beach. She burst from the carrier, propelling herself rapidly with her legs. She stretched her wings skyward and then swept them down powerfully, giving her even more forward momentum. After several more wing beats her feet left the ground, and the heron crossed the remaining 30 yards to the water's edge on a cushion of air.

Great Blue Heron

Once airborne, the heron headed straight for the water.

Arriving at the water, she spread her wings for a short glide. Her movement slowed, and the glide turned into a controlled stall which ended with her landing gently on her feet in shallow water. She was free, but she still kept a wary eye on her former captors.

As the heron stood in the water taking in her new surroundings, gulls, crows, and other local wildlife could be heard calling all around. The heron paid little attention to any of them, but she took an immediate interest when a bald eagle vocalized at the south end of the bay. Her neck craned in the direction of the call, and her body language betrayed her discomfort with this particular neighbor. She decided that she would prefer to put some distance between herself and that voice, and she took flight once again.

Great Blue Heron

After putting some distance between herself and the eagle, the heron relaxed and took in her new surroundings.

Cruising low over the water on slow, steady wing beats, the heron flew about 200 yards due north. She made another perfect two-point landing, this time in slightly deeper water. She relaxed a bit and she dipped her bill in the water a few times, seemingly testing the prospects for an easy meal. While doing this, she drew the attention of another heron that was flying in from the northeast. As the local heron approached, 03-4343 pulled her head down into a submissive posture. The other heron landed about 5 feet away from her with his head raised high, and he gave her a quick inspection. His curiosity satisfied, he then flew south, unaware or unafraid of the eagle that was waiting in that direction.

As the curious heron departed, 03-4343's head came back up, and she resumed her relaxed pose. The sun shined brightly on her feathers, and her plumes blew gently in the breeze. She looked just like a hundred other herons that I have seen standing in the water on a sunny day. She looked beautiful. That is how I left her, and I took her identity as PAWS case # 03-4343 with me. Her life and her identity were once again her own.

Wildlife Release tally: March 24th to March 30th, 2004

1 Red Fox
1 American Crow
2 Virginia Opossums

Wildlife Release tally: 2004
55 animals

All rights reserved. 2004 Progressive Animal Welfare Society