Happy New Year
Ah, New Year’s Eve. A time for reflection, revelry and resolutions. This year I am definitely going to start exercising. I know I have said that for the past five years or more, but this year I have an added incentive. If I don’t get off my butt soon, it won’t fit in any of my clothes. Of course I could just go shopping, but I don’t have time for that any more than I do for exercising. Peace River Wildlife Center keeps me pretty busy. Injured animals don’t take the holidays off. And the residents definitely don’t stop eating because the silly humans want to spend time with their families. Luckily for me I have an army of staff, most of whom are volunteers, who have allowed me to take some time off for just that pursuit. I got to spend a leisurely long weekend at my favourite beach with some of my favourite people, but when it comes to making time on a daily basis for mundane tasks like exercise, there never seem to be enough hours in the day.
One of our special holiday deliveries is a green heron that was brought to us thanks to Santa’s Little Helper. I’m not sure if the dog that attacked this bird is actually named the same as Bart Simpson’s dog or not, but it seems fitting. The poor heron came in with her humerus (the large bone in the upper part of the wing) crushed. She has a strong will to live and a healthy appetite, so we gave her some time to see if the fractured bone would fuse together in any semblance of normal. After surgery to remove some of the bone fragments, her wing was wrapped like a holiday gift. I’m sure it was not exactly what she was hoping for, but without PRWC’s intervention, she certainly would have succumbed to her injuries.
The green heron is ubiquitous in the wetlands of North America, but not all that commonly seen. It is a solitary creature and quite skittish, fleeing at the first sign of people with an indignant squawk and its signature “chalk-line” trail behind it. This species feeds day and night, usually standing in shallow water, but can dive and swim after small fish. The little green heron is one of few bird species that uses tools. It fabricates baits to lure fish to it, even using small bread crumbs considerately provided by well-meaning but ill-informed people. (See every previous article where by people are encouraged to stop feeding wildlife bread and hot dogs.)
This intelligent heron reacts to the warning calls of at least ten different bird species, like crows and grackles. It affects an alert response called the bittern stance. Like its cousin the bittern, it will elongate its body with the bill held straight up in the air, feathers sleeked, unmoving except for a slight head swivel to monitor the predator’s location. In this position it blends in with the surrounding water plants making it difficult for predators to see it. This heron is also quite remarkable in its growth rate. The eggs hatch after only 20 days, the fledglings can fly after another 20 days and the young are independent by 30 days.
PRWC’s green heron patient, nicknamed Merry due to her festive wrappings, will never fly again. But thanks to her strong will to live and the generous donations of our supporters, she will live out her life with a different mission. She will become one of our educational display birds to help teach people how to live in harmony with the natural beauty surrounding us. In the immortal words of Catherine Aird, “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” Merry will indeed be a shining example of one of southwest Florida’s indigenous species for visitors to cherish and photograph up close, which would have been almost impossible in the wild. I, on the other hand, will serve as the poster child for what could befall the best of you if you don’t live up to your New Year’s resolutions.
by-Robin Jenkins, DVM