A heron’s survival.

DSC_0856At Moonstone Beach in Westhaven, about 15 miles north of Arcata, a small grove of tall Monterey cypress is one of the Earthly portals where Herons come into the world.

The 9th of May, right after a high wind, a tiny, newly hatched Black-crowned Night Heron, was brought to our Bayside clinic. The little bird still had his ‘egg-tooth,’ a small pointy extra bit at the end of his upper bill, that hatchlings have to help break through the egg from the inside. He weighed about 50 grams.

The trees at Moonstone are tall and branchless until their canopy. Without disturbing the whole colony of wild families there was no way to put the hatchling back in her or his nest. Although re-nesting baby birds is a lot better than raising them in captivity, we didn’t think we could do it. So we took the little guy on.

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From the start the Heron was a voracious eater. At this early stage, 2-3 chopped smelt (a small ocean fish) would be eaten in about a minute and a half. In order to stave off mineral deficiencies that might lead to such problems as metabolic bone disease, calcium was sprinkled lightly on the fish we served. The little bird would devour the fish and then show off her or his calcium powdered bill to the constant companion in the mirror we provided for some sort of solace.

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Unlike mammals, whether raccoon or human, birds grow very fast. This youngster was soon standing and eating whole fish. It’s always surprising how many fish one of these birds can actually swallow! As s/he grew we increased the amount of fish and gradually increased the size of the bird’s housing.

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Eventually, the Heron was housed in our largest flight aviary. We set up a small pool with live gold fish. These birds are expert fishers and this one needed to learn the trade. S/he quickly became very proficient at snagging the quick fish from the water.

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After 6 weeks of care, the bird was flying, fishing, and demonstrating a seething hatred for humans: each of these a crucial part of surviving the modern world. The young Heron was released at the Arcata Marsh, where the colony where s/he entered the world roosts year round.

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all photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX

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