Last year, I worked at the center during Thanksgiving, it was supposed to be the usual boring holiday shifts. And it was late afternoon the day before Thanksgiving when we received a phone call from a finder who had found a Great Blue Heron. Immediately we perked up because we don’t get very many Great Blue’s into the center and unfortunately they have a low success rate because of their fragility.
“Currently we are understaffed and unable to come pick up the bird from you. Do you think that you could drive the bird to us? From your location, you’re only an hour away.” We urged the finder, time was not on our side. The longer it took to get the heron to us, the chances of the bird dying grew higher.
“I can try, it’s just that I don’t drive well at night.” She paused, “If you don’t see me in the next hours then I couldn’t make it and I’ll try again tomorrow.”
The next hour and a half anxiously went by, with frequent glances at the passing time and the empty doorway. The moment the finder stepped through the door we breathed breaths we weren’t aware that we were holding in relief.
Expecting the worst once we found out that the heron had been the victim of being hit by a car, we started looking for the usual main injury: a broken pelvis. A broken pelvis only has one outcome, and it’s not a pleasant one but a humane choice of euthanasia. Remarkably, the heron only had a left wing ulna fracture.
For comparison purposes, I added a picture of a human arm for perspective, of where the ulna is located. Surprisingly, the anatomy on a bird is nearly identical to that of a human.
Challenge can you spot the small fracture? Hint it’s at the top of the ulna near the wrist. Scroll to the bottom for the answer!
The finder once hearing the good news, told us her story of finding the heron, “I was near the fire station and me and this firefighter saw this guy taking selfies with a Great Blue Heron. So we walked over to the guy to see what was going on. The guy said he had hit the heron with his car and was excited to see one up close. The firefighter and I agreed that the bird needed to be rescued so we took the bird from the guy. But my car was so full of stuff that I didn’t have room for such a large bird. And can you believe it, the firefighters let me empty my car and store my stuff at the station so that I could take the bird to you guys! So now I have to go back to the station and get my stuff.”
The finder has been calling almost every week since then to find out how “her heron” was doing. Last time she called she was pleased to find out that the heron had been moved to a flight cage and is preparing for release, which she is of course invited to!
Did anybody locate the fracture? It’s can be tricky reading a radiograph and finding small fractures, like this one above. Any size fracture in a wing can be significant and many birds never fully recover the ability to fly. The worst fractures are those near the wrist because of the critical role the wrist play in flight and bending the wing. The heron was one of those rare cases that healed smoothly with very little complications and regained full flight ability.
Here is a link to a short video of the heron eating trout. I wish I had a better video but it was super difficult taking a video through the bars without her seeing me, and she eats so fast that it’s easy to miss the moment. In the three years, I have been working at the center, she is the first heron to survive and will be the first one I get to release. For that, I am thankful since they are such majestic birds!