Great Blue Heron #20-3543

November 2, 2020
February 19, 2021
Rescue Location
Madison County, Virginia
Cause of Admission/Condition
Tangled in fishing line
Former Patient

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

On November 2, a Great Blue Heron was found tangled in fishing line that was dangling from a tree in Madison, Virginia. An Albemarle County Animal Control officer removed the fishing line before capturing the bird and transporting it to the Center.

A veterinary student at the Center found a deep wound on the bird’s right elbow, along with scrapes on both elbows. The bird was also knuckling his feet, which affected his ability to walk. The heron was treated with pain medication and antibiotics and placed in the Center’s Hold room. The bird was not eating well in the days following admission, so the veterinary staff began acclimating the heron so that it could move outside, in hopes that the outdoor space and sounds would stimulate the bird’s appetite. The bird continued to improve and was moved to the Center’s Aviary enclosure on November 7.

Originally, this bird was not eating well while living in the Center’s Hold room. Herons can be particularly stressed in a captive setting, which makes them challenging to care for. After moving to the Center’s Aviary enclosure, the heron started eating more consistently and the veterinary staff are pleased with how the bird’s coordination and balance were improving. The heron is currently eating consistently all of the smelt fish he is offered daily.

On November 22, Dr. Sarah, one of the Center’s veterinary interns, noted a right-wing droop while the bird was in the Center’s Aviary enclosure. While this issue has since resolved, the bird continues to live in the Center’s Aviary so that it can gain more weight and continue to heal its wing wound.

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Patient Updates

On February 19, Great Blue Heron #20-3543 was released back into the wild at Chris Greene Lake Park in Albemarle County. Dr. Karra made the delicate decision to approve this bird for release since its injuries are stable and healing, and she wanted to avoid further captivity-related issues.

Great Blue Herons are a notoriously challenging species to care for in captivity. This heron has made great strides since November 2020 when it was admitted with injuries as a result of being tangled in fishing line, but the length of time required to heal has caused several captivity-related issues that are now also being managed. The staff are very pleased that the heron continues to eat well throughout all the treatments and handling, as is not always so with patients of this species. The staff are still hopeful that the bird may be released soon.

During the past week, the veterinary staff found that the Great Blue Heron’s elbow wound was not healing as hoped, and they sutured it closed on January 21. The bird’s foot abrasions have not changed much in A3, the Center’s large flight enclosure, but the rehabilitation staff believes this could be a result of a very delicate species living temporarily in human care.

Veterinary staff have been watching the bird’s flight ability and are pleased with his progress. The bird continues to eat well.

On January 10, Great Blue Heron #20-3543 was moved to A3, one of the Center’s largest flight enclosures. Veterinary staff has been able to monitor the heron’s flight in A3, as this is one of the enclosures that has a camera. They are pleased with the bird’s current abilities, and have noted that the bird is continuing to eat well. This enclosure is also furnished with new perching that allows for further healing of the heron’s foot abrasions.

The Great Blue Heron’s wing injury is continuing to heal, and veterinary staff is maintaining the bandage on his wing to keep the wound clean and let it close before allowing the bird to stretch out his wings.

Some minor abrasions were forming on the bird’s feet, likely caused by gaps in the rock substrate in the enclosure. Veterinary staff were able to fill those gaps, and expect the abrasions to resolve as a result.

On December 17, Dr. Karra examined Great Blue Heron #20-3543 and noticed that the wound on the heron’s wing was more significant than previously noted and would require surgery to repair. On December 18, Dr. Karra repaired the bird’s wound under anesthesia. The procedure included cleaning the wound, removing dead tissue, and closing the wound with stitches. The surgery went well, and the veterinary staff is treating the wound with antibiotic cream and a special waterproof bandage to keep it clean and dry. The bird’s wing has been bandaged in such a way that inhibits flight while the wound heals.

Unfortunately, because of the wound’s location, Dr. Karra is unsure if the heron’s patagium will be permanently affected. The patagium is the stretchy ligament that connects a bird’s wrist to its shoulder. This structure allows for extension and contraction of the wing for flight and in resting position. Dr. Karra has noted that the patagium has some knots which have the potential to heal and, fortunately, are not affecting the bird’s ability to fly, although because of the wing to body wrap, the bird is currently unable to fly. Dr. Karra will make a more informed decision about this bird’s flight after it is moved to a flight pen.

The bird continues to live in the Center’s Aviary and is eating well. The veterinary staff continues to check the heron’s wound and bandage daily.