Last Saturday at the end of the work day, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center’s staff wildlife rehabilitator, Lucinda Adamson, took a call. An Egret was struggling in the water at the Eureka Marina. The caller told Lucinda that he had already pulled the struggling bird, who he’d thought was tangled in fishing line from the water once, but that the bird had fallen back in…
When Lucinda arrived on the scene she found a water-logged and apparently dead Great Egret (Ardea alba) floating next to the dock. But as she bent to lift the spent body from the water, she noticed a soft and shallow breath.
Unresponsive, soaking and dangerously cold, the bird needed immediate help. Lucinda brought the brought the barely conscious Egret back to our clinic in Bayside. With a body temperature of 95˚F, there was little else to be done but provide warmth and warmed fluids.
Within a few hours, the Egret was again aware and alert, with a normal body temperature, dry and able to stand. Lucinda offered a handful of fish and privacy for the rest of the night. Come morning, the Egret was alert, standing, distressed by captivity and full of fish. All of the night’s dinner had been eaten.
Now stable, we performed a full examination. The Egret was in good shape. Well muscled, hydrated, – even the bird’s blood was well within healthy parameters. The only thing amiss was that her (or his) feathers were very disheveled. We placed her back into our large bird recovery housing and misted with fresh water all of her impressive white plumage, to encourage our lucky patient to put things back in order. The regular work that birds put in to feather care, preening, we call it, is a time-consuming and a very necessary part of the beauty of feathered flight.
Humboldt Bay is home to a large population of Egrets and Herons. We see them everywhere – hunting for rodents in farmland, fishing in marshes, moving softly on broad wings across the sky. On an island between the Samoa peninsula and the city of Eureka is a “rookery” where hundreds of Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets raise their young each year, May through August, looking like white blossoms on the stand of non-native Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) that these quintessential marshland birds have (de)colonized and redeemed.
By the end of this Egret’s first 24 hours in care, frustration with captivity had become his or her biggest problem. It began to seem likely that this adult had a family that needed attention. At the end of the second day, now certain that all of our patient’s feathers were restored, we released the Egret in view of the island of Egrets.
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After leaping into flight and freedom out of our carrier, the Egret landed in an adjacent cove and took stock of the new situation. Soon the bird put some greater distance between us, flying to an exposed part of the mud flats farther into the bay.
And after a brief stay, the Egret lifted into flight again, this time flying high and directly toward the ‘rookery’ on the island of Egrets, toward what we hope is a happy reunion.
Our patient no more, simply another incredible Great Egret, alive and returning to his or her partner and young after a brush with death and a mysterious encounter – living into a second chance.
A happy rehabilitator! Lucinda Adamson after the bird has flown…
What saved this bird’s life? Your support. Your support makes it possible for us to have dedicated staff members, like Lucinda Adamson, who is the first full-time staff person HWCC has ever hired. Our growth in the community has meant an ever increasing caseload, and as our capacity increases with your support, so does the community that relies on us. Your support makes this all possible. Without your support there would be no wind beneath this Egret’s wings. Thank you for helping us help our wild neighbors.
All photos: Laura Coriglia/BAX