August 10, 2005
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
Part of the challenge of releasing wild animals is getting them to an
appropriate release site. Sometimes this requires special equipment
like boats, helicopters, off-road vehicles, or snowmobiles. Other
times, this just requires a willingness to be uncomfortable. Such was
the case on Tuesday, August 2nd as I stood on top of a crushed, empty
cardboard carrier in about 10 inches of water.
My hiking boots were already full of water, so the carrier was more to
prevent me from sinking into the mud than it was to keep me dry. I
thought about the rubber boots I had accidentally left sitting under my
desk back at PAWS. I let the thought go and embraced the feeling of
standing ankle-deep in a wetland. It certainly gave me a more intimate
familiarity with the preferred home of the beings I was about to
release. Still, I felt a bit guilty about not telling PAWS Webmaster
and Multimedia Specialist Matt Brown that he might want to bring along
a pair of boots. At the time, he was standing close by setting up a
video camera, and his tennis shoe clad feet were only partially visible
in the soggy muck.
The herons were very young when they first
arrived at PAWS. They readily ate the bits
of fish that were offered to them.
To Matt's credit, he remained in high spirits, as did the two King
County Parks seasonal staff members who were in attendance. The four of
us had just climbed over two fences, and marched about 100 yards across
ground that varied from wet to completely underwater.
We had stopped once at the foot of a heavily wooded slope to release a
snowshoe hare from the carrier on which I was now standing. The hare
had darted into a patch of brambles, circled back past our feet and,
realizing his error, darted into the bramble patch again. After sitting
for a second or two, he disappeared upslope. We had continued on past
the rabbit release site toward a stand of cottonwoods that I had chosen
as our destination, but we stopped short of that goal when I took a
step and found myself nearly knee-deep in water. It was at that point
that I dropped the empty carrier into a slightly shallower pool nearby,
and stepped onto it declaring that we had found our release site.
In just a few short weeks they
had grown in nearly all of their
feathers, and they were moved
to a larger, outdoor cage.
There was really no solid ground on which to set my release carriers,
so I simply held the first one out in front of me and opened it. A
Green Heron burst forth, and veered off to my right, diving into the
cover of a nearby patch of low alders. After getting situated on a
branch, he stretched his neck straight up and blended perfectly with
his surroundings. Seeing him in his natural environment, it was easy to
understand how the work crew that was clearing brush around a Sammamish
retention pond on July 5th had overlooked him and his four siblings.
Two of his siblings had perished when their nest was destroyed, and the
other two now sat in their release carrier waiting to experience the
same freedom that their former nestmate was now enjoying. The three
surviving herons had spent the last month at PAWS feasting on smelt,
tadpoles, and other heron delicacies. They grew up quickly, and after
proving both their flying and foraging skills in a pre-release cage,
they were ready to live the wild life they deserve.
I held the second carrier out and opened it. One of the two herons
contained within hopped out and perched on the edge of the box. Since I
was holding the box up in the air, it wasn't entirely stable.
After performing a wobbly balancing act for a second or two, the heron
flew off to my left and took cover behind a large Skunk Cabbage.
Shortly after she landed, the heron tentatively stretched her neck up
to peer at us from behind the thick leaves of the cabbage. If I hadn't
known she was there, I likely would have overlooked her as her long
neck blended perfectly with the bulrushes and grasses around her. I
turned back to the carrier as there was still one bird that had yet to
emerge. He seemed to be having difficulty, so I decided to give him a
One of the herons attempts to look
inconspicuous at his release.
The final heron was attempting to fly out of the box, but it was too
narrow for him to get any lift. His siblings had both jumped to clear
the lip of the carrier, but he seemed less inclined to do so. As I
reached in to lift him out, I felt his long toes close around my
fingers. In his disorientation, he stayed on my hand for a few seconds
after I lifted him out of the box. He peered in the direction of the
alder bushes, and after I made an abrupt movement to remind him that he
was on an unsafe perch, he flew a path almost identical to that of the
first heron that was released. His landing in the alder was not exactly
graceful, but he moved effortlessly through the thick brush once he had
gained a perch. As he disappeared, his siblings could still be seen
standing frozen to our left and right. It was clear that they were
nervously awaiting our next move. I'm sure it came as a huge relief to
them when we turned, and on squishing shoes walked back out of the
wetland the same way we had come in.
"Wild Things" Need Your Help!
The PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center has once again formed "Team
Wild Things" to raise money for this year's PAWSwalk. Last year, the
"Wild Things" raised more than $5,400 for the animals, and we would
love to beat that total this year. With only 4 weeks left until the
September 10th event, we still have a long way to go to reach our goal.
If you would like to make a pledge to support the "Wild Things", or if
you would like to join the team and walk with us, please click here: https://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=
PAWSwalk benefits all of the animals that PAWS cares for through sponsorships, registrations and pledges.
To those of you who have already made a pledge, thank you so much!
Wild animals released between July 27 and August 9, 2005:
All rights reserved. ©2005 Progressive Animal Welfare Society
3 Virginia Opossums
3 Townsend's Chipmunks
4 Eastern Cottontails
4 American Crows
2 Band-tailed Pigeons
1 Northern Flicker
1 Vaux Swift
1 Red-tailed Hawk
4 Green Herons
1 Snowshoe Hare
5 Violet-green Swallows
4 Barn Swallows
2 Tree Swallows
2 Cliff Swallows
2 Chestnut-backed Chickadees
4 Steller's Jays
10 American Robins
368 wild animals have been released since the beginning of 2005.