Great Blue Heron Tangled in Fishing Line

Fishing line and hooks would have killed this Great Blue Heron

Every day, WildCare’s Wildlife Hospital sees the dangers of improperly disposed-of fishing line and tackle. Located as we are in Marin County, many of our patients are denizens of the shores of San Francisco Bay. Lots of people like to fish the Bay, but unfortunately not all of them know of the risks to wildlife of unattended line.

This Great Blue Heron got tangled in line thrown into the Bay, but his situation got much worse when the dangling line and hooks snagged on shoreline rocks.

The bird was trapped— tied helplessly to the rocks and with a soon-to-be-infected wound on his foot from stepping on a dirty fishhook.

Fortunately passersby saw him and called for help.

Once he was at WildCare, Medical Staff examined the heron. It was obvious that this bird had been very lucky to have been rescued quickly. He had not been tied down too long by the line, and he hadn’t struggled so much that he caused deep wounds and abrasions where the line contacted his body.

The bird’s bloodwork showed no emaciation, and a physical exam proved him to be well-fleshed and healthy.

The primary concern, after the line was cut from the bird’s body, was the potentially infected wound from the fishhook puncture in his foot. Fishhooks are covered in bacteria, so animals that arrive at WildCare with punctures are put on antibiotics immediately.

Medical Staff gave this bird subcutaneous fluids and a medication for pain. They also started him on a week’s course of antibiotics. He was placed in a pen with a pan of smelt (small fish) nearby.

The next day, it was time to medicate the heron again. But how do you give a pill to a gigantic bird like a Great Blue Heron? With dogs and cats, you can usually gently open the animal’s mouth and push the pill down the throat. The animal doesn’t like it, but he’ll usually swallow the pill. This technique doesn’t work, however, when your animal patient has a two-foot long neck. Like with dogs or small children, however, covering the pill in a treat sometimes makes medicating easier.

Director of Animal Care, Melanie Piazza created heron “Pill Poppers” by placing the antibiotic pills inside small fish. While Melanie held the bird, her assistant Galen opened the bird’s beak and pushed a medicated fish inside his mouth. Then she gently guided the fish down the bird’s throat with a stroking motion. Finally the bird swallowed the fish, and medicating procedure was complete.

This handsome bird spent a few days at WildCare, and then another week in International Bird Rescue’s large aviary to rebuild his flight muscles. He made a full recovery and was returned to the wild.

WildCare treats hundreds of animals tangled in fishing line every year. Most patients spend more time than this heron did struggling against the unbreakable nylon line, and most of them arrive at WildCare with deep abrasions and other wounds. The ones that have been tangled for many days are also extremely dehydrated and emaciated.

Click here to read more about the entangled animals WildCare treats!


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True Facts About Great Blue Herons

WildCare admits an average of three Great Blue Herons to our Wildlife Hospital every year. But these gorgeous birds are very common in the wetlands and marshes nearby! Watch our video below to learn about some special anatomical adaptations these birds have that make them incredibly interesting!