PAWS Wild Again


April 2006   
Inspiring stories about the PAWS Wildlife Center and the animals we serve

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Lynnwood WA, 98046

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Kevin Mack

Caught in the Act
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

On March 18th I opened a cage door in the PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center exam room and beheld a very sad sight. A large, majestic bird was huddled at the back of the cage looking anything but dignified. Ordinarily standing over three feet tall, the bird had compressed himself to less than a foot in height. He held his right wing at an odd angle, and it was clear that this was due to a physical impairment rather than a conscious choice. Although it was not the most flattering pose in which to see the “official bird of Seattle," the beauty of his breeding plumage and his striking yellow beak and eyes still momentarily took my breath away. When I looked in his eyes, I wondered what he must have been feeling. His body language was easy enough to interpret—he was afraid—but I believe I sensed a fair amount of confusion as well. This was understandable considering the series of events that had led to the bird being admitted to PAWS. Two days earlier this Great Blue Heron had started the day off with a little fishing, but by the end of the day it was him, not the fish who had been caught.
Heron 06-0249 in his exam room cage

Many people enjoy creating and maintaining decorative ponds in their yards. Many also enjoy stocking these ponds with colorful, expensive fish. In turn, many species of wildlife enjoy visiting these ponds and eating these colorful, expensive fish. This is just what the heron who became known as PAWS case #06-0249 was attempting to do on March 16 th when he ran into trouble. It makes no difference to a heron whether a fish is found in a large lake or a small puddle. It also makes no difference to the bird whether a fish was free or cost several hundred dollars. But it does tend to make a great deal of difference to the person who purchased the fish for several hundred dollars, and these individuals are wise to take steps to exclude herons, raccoons, and other fish-eaters from their ponds. However, some methods of exclusion are better than others. The pond that heron 06-0249 visited had a nearly invisible web of monofilament fishing line strung over the top of it. As the heron attempted to catch a meal, his right wing became entangled in the fishing line. He remained by the pond, struggling to free himself until a neighbor came to his rescue the next day.
Wildlife rehabilitator Peggy Faranda examines the heron’s wing

By the time the heron arrived at PAWS he was exhausted. The droop in his right wing along with damaged primary feathers gave the staff cause for concern, but no broken bones were detected during the bird’s initial examination. It was believed that he had strained the wing muscles and joints during his struggle, and he was prescribed cage rest to allow any swelling or irritation to subside. The wing was wrapped so it would remain immobilized while healing. By March 24 th, the heron’s wing wrap was removed, and he was able to hold his wing in a normal position without assistance. On March 25 th the bird was moved into a larger, outdoor cage and he wasted no time demonstrating his flight capabilities. He graduated to the flight pen and was put on the fast track to release.
Feather damage caused by the fishing line that was wrapped around the heron’s right wing

Release day came on March 30 th. The heron stood on a high perch and watched me as I carried a large pet carrier into his cage. I then exited and returned with a long-handled net. Recognizing the net, the heron began to fly back and forth overhead, doing his best to stay out of reach. With the cage to contain him, the heron did not evade capture for long. After giving him a quick examination and removing his in-house identification band, I placed the heron in a carrier and loaded him into a truck for the trip to the release site.

At the release site, I set the carrier in a tree-lined clearing next to the Puyallup River. After letting the heron rest for a few moments, I opened the carrier door. He was sitting very much like he had been the first time I saw him, hunkered down and looking afraid and miserable. I moved to the back of the carrier, and with a little prodding the heron exited and took flight. He appeared to more than quadruple in size as his long legs and neck stretched out and his wings reached their full six-foot span. As he gained altitude, his neck slowly pulled back into the familiar “S” shape that his species prefers while in flight. His fearful demeanor having been replaced by one of confidence, the heron continued to gain altitude and then circled off to the east. He seemed to be flying with purpose as he disappeared from sight, and I wondered if he had a particular destination in mind. If he did, it would remain his secret. My direct involvement in his life had come to an end.
Heron 06-0249 flies free at the release site

Thirteen animals were released between March 1st and April 1st, 2006. Thanks to all of you for helping to make these releases possible!

Wildlife Releases: March 1 - April 1, 2006

  • Bald Eagle- 1
  • Dark-eyed Junco- 2
  • Varied thrush- 1
  • Eastern Cottontail- 3
  • Mallard- 1
  • Band-tailed Pigeon- 1
  • American Robin- 1
  • Cooper's Hawk- 1
  • Great Blue Heron- 1
  • Rock Pigeon- 1

40 wild animals have been released since the beginning of 2006.
Thanks to all of you for helping to make these releases possible!

All rights reserved. &copy2006 Progressive Animal Welfare Society

A Northwest leader in protecting animals since 1967, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) shelters homeless animals, rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife, and empowers people to demonstrate compassion and respect for animals in their daily lives.