Struggle and Growth: Great Blue Herons

Wildlife Rescue is currently housing, feeding, and helping grow not one or two, but five Great Blue Herons on site. These large wading birds, affectionately referred to as the “Muppet babies” by our Wildlife Technicians, all came to us except for one after falling prematurely from their nests. The other suffered from several puncture wounds, most likely sustained from a predator attack.

Great Blue Herons lead a tough life from the time they’re born. Parents typically lay between one to three eggs in a single nest, with each egg roughly a day apart. This often leads to siblicide, or the practice of siblings fighting over resources in order to survive. From an evolutionary standpoint it’s thought this is a way for the stronger of the children to carry on their genes, but occasionally this can be unfair as the older sibling who hatched first simply had the advantage of age and started to push the younger one out.

Learning to Survive

Caring for Great Blue Herons such as these is a lot of work. They require constant attention – particularly when they’re in groups to ensure no violence breaks out. Yet while this is a concern, typically this behaviour is only exhibited when there’s a scarcity of resources, so while they’re in care it’s quickly made evident there’s going to enough food for all of them.

In the wild Great Blue Herons will travel with their parent(s) to their hunting grounds after 60 days of growth. Here they will learn to hunt for fish, frogs and voles until they’re fit to live independently.

In order to simulate these essential life skills, Wildlife Rescue takes great care in ensuring an ordered process for the birds to understand “the hunt”.

First, buckets of smelt are simply placed within the shelter of the bird to ensure they take on the role of self-feeding.

As the weeks progress and they show signs of improvement, the smelt will be placed in larger ponds instead of buckets, where the herons will learn that food exists in a similar environment and take on the role of catching and feeding themselves. This allows them to learn about depth perception and get comfortable with the idea of diving into water for food.

Once they’ve grown large enough we place the herons inside of our Raptor Pen – a large, open space with a larger pool. Here they learn to fly on their own, and are treated to live fish in order for the wading bird to understand how to find and catch real prey.

Keep in mind that in the wild herons are going to be hunting and feeding in and around salt water with fresh prey.

In order to provide these birds with the same nutrients as found in their wild diets, Wildlife Rescue utilizes calcium supplements and Mazuri Auklet Vitamin Tablets. These are designed to alleviate nutrient deficiencies, and ensure healthy growth of the bird in order to compete in the wild upon release.

Fit for Release

Great Blue Heron Care

Once and only once these birds have proven themselves capable of flight, self-feeding, and demonstrated hunting skills on live prey are they deemed fit for release.

This whole process can take two months. That’s a lot of care and attention by our Wildlife Technicians, and a whole lot of nutrient supplements along with the steady intake of smelt in order to properly grow.

A single Great Blue Heron is estimated to cost $250 to care for, albeit this is a reserved estimate.

Wildlife Rescue is a non-profit organization fueled by our donors. If you or anyone you know would like to contribute to Wildlife Rescue so we can continue to treat magnificent creatures such as these herons, please go to www.wildliferescue.ca/give and make a donation today. Alternatively you can join our increasingly popular monthly giving program! It’s simple to put us into a monthly budget by making your payment when it’s most convenient to you.


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