A great blue heron was released back into its natural habitat in Chilliwack on Saturday after having spent the last month being nursed back to health in Abbotsford.
The bird was first brought to the attention of Dr. Elizabeth Borgmann of Coastal Rivers Pet Hospital – located on Riverside Road in Abbotsford – on July 5.
The hospital works in partnership with Elizabeth’s Wildlife Centre, run in Abbotsford by Elizabeth Melnick, who treats and rehabilitates sick and injured small wild animals such as birds, bunnies, raccoons and squirrels.
Coastal Rivers responds to after-hours calls to the wildlife centre and serves as a drop-off point for these animals when Melnick is not available.
The hospital will then treat the creatures and pass them on to Melnick with details for their further care.
The heron had been located in the backyard of a person who lives close to the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve on Sumas Prairie Road in Chilliwack.
The bird had been there for a few days before the individual realized it was the same one and not a series of different visitors.
Borgmann said the heron was suffering from a severe eye infection – something that can occur with birds who dip their heads into water that can harbour harmful bacteria.
She said the bird’s eyes were covered with a “thick cheesy pus” that formed a solid cap over its eyes. In its blinded state, it was unable to find food or water, and had become emaciated and dehydrated.
Borgmann said the heron was placed on a course of IV fluids and potent antibiotics on the day it arrived, but the prognosis was grim.
“We actually didn’t expect it to survive, but the next morning it was standing up. We were like, ‘Oh, wow!’ ”
The heron – whose sex is not known – was then transferred to Elizabeth’s Wildlife Centre, where it resided while it gained strength.
Melnick said the bird was skeletal and weak when it arrived, and she wasn’t sure whether she would be able to nurse it back to health.
“It was quite the ordeal with him,” she said.
Melnick continued the IV antibiotic treatment and tube-fed the bird three times a day for many days before she was able to force-feed it fish.
The heron then moved from the nursery to an outdoor caged area, and progressed to the most important stage – being able to capture and eat fish on its own.
“There was no stopping him after that,” Melnick said.
The bird was released back onto the nature reserve on Saturday, accompanied by Borgmann, Melnick and Camille Coray, environmental education co-ordinator at the reserve.
Melnick said the release went well, although there was a moment when another territorial great blue heron squawked at the intruder and Melnick had to scold it away. But she said getting the bird back home was a special moment.
“I think that’s the best thing that can happen … It’s just so neat,” she said.
(Photo below by Jenna Hauck/Black Press: Dr. Elizabeth Borgmann (right) of Coastal Rivers Pet Hospital and Elizabeth Melnick of Elizabeth’s Wildlife Centre prepare to release a young adult heron back into the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve on Saturday as Camille Coray of the GBHNR watches.)