Young Heron Meets a Hero
Baby season is still in full swing at Peace River Wildlife Center. Our baby brooders are full of tiny song birds and our woodflight cages are bursting at the seams with raptors and herons. Many of the season’s first babies have already been released but the second and third wave of hatchlings keeps us busy. It always seems the babies born later in the season are a little less healthy, a little more prone to getting into trouble. Any mother of more than one child knows the veracity of that statement. All of the baby birds we have right now have “middle child” syndrome.
One of the fledglings we just admitted is a particularly feisty little fellow. An injured juvenile yellow-crowned night heron was spotted by a local lady on her property. She claims to have seen other birds with similar injuries, but they did not survive. Thankfully his rescuer noticed he was in trouble and knew to call PRWC. After answering a few questions, she sent us a picture of the bird. We wanted to be sure this was not just the usual fledgling toddling around on his own as he practices independence from his parents. Those individuals need to be left alone to learn their place in the world.
No, this bird had something horribly wrong and needed to be seen as soon as possible. The poor baby had a degloving injury–the skin all the way around his neck was torn away from the underlying tissue. We do not know what caused the injury. The bird may have been grabbed by a predator or he may have gotten his head caught in a fence or branch and pulled so hard to free himself that he tore his skin. Whatever the cause, he is lucky to have survived the original ordeal. Upon admission to PRWC, he was stronger than expected, but surgery was postponed until the next day so we could start antibiotics and stabilize him.
Dubbed “Whiplash,” he was prepped for surgery the following morning. And yes, we are all fully aware that an actual “whiplash” injury is a totally different malady. So hold those irate letters to the editor. Sometimes we employ little coping mechanisms like irony and sarcasm here at PRWC to help us deal with some of the sad and occasionally infuriating cases we see.
The operation to close the skin around his neck was successful. At first it did not look like there would be enough tissue to make it, but eventually we were able to piece together the remaining fragments of skin and draw them together. Anesthesia itself is risky with an animal that has undergone so much stress, but this little guy was strong throughout. His next hurdle was waking up, which he did like a champ. He was on his feet within minutes after surgery ended.
While still far from out of the woods, figuratively speaking, our little patient is progressing well so far. He is literally out of the woods and in the hospital for now getting antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. His next step will be to move into a woodflight cage with some distant family members. We have two of our resident yellow-crowned night herons off display with two youngsters they are raising. The happy family had another slightly older fledgling added a little over a week ago. Little do they know, but they are expecting another bundle of joy to be added to the family.
Since Whiplash and his new siblings are releasable birds, they will remain off display as our state and federal permits mandate. The parents will be back on display as soon as they are done raising this rowdy round of youngsters. I’m sure they will be happy for the solitude of being ogled by humans a few hours a day as opposed to hearing a siege of insatiable heron chicks begging for food all day—and night. They don’t call these guys night herons for nothing. As soon as Whiplash is finished with his medications, he will be placed with the other herons so he can continue his learning and healing processes in a more natural and less stressful environment. And take his rightful place as the official middle child. Keep your fingers crossed for his poor foster parents.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM