A great blue heron was released back into the wild on Wednesday after being spotted unable to fly because of clumps of snow and ice that were packed into its feathers.
Allison Prentice and her friend Guy Kinney noticed the heron struggling to climb up a hill near Airdrie, Alta.
“When I spotted it, it was clearly unable to get up a small hill,” Prentice said.
“I could see huge amounts of ice hanging off his back-end and underneath him so I immediately put on some gloves and decided I was going to go rescue it without giving any thought.”
The two friends slowly walked closer to the female heron, covered her in a blanket and drove the almost lifeless bird to the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation (AIWC).
“Both of our thoughts at that point was: if we don’t do something with this bird, it’s not going to make it,” Kinney said.
Erin Casper is the Rehabilitation Manager at theAIWC and said the heron was treated for severe hypothermia.
“It took her about 24 hours to get up and standing again, which is a long time for a heron,” Casper said.
“They can’t be left sitting for too long or they can lose the function of their legs.”
Once Casper and her team at the AIWC had the heron warmed up, they were able to get some fluids into her and run tests.
“We were able to do more thorough diagnostics and determine that there was nothing else wrong with her and she was ready to go back to the wild as soon as she was warm and fed,” Casper said.
After a few days at the rehab centre, the great blue heron became restless and eager to back into the air.
Staff originally wanted to keep her at the centre over the winter, but with warm weather in the forecast, they decided it was in her best interest to be released.
The AIWC team updated Prentice and Kinney on the condition of the heron and invited them to participate in her release back into the wild.
“It brought a few tears — that was so wonderful,” Prentice said. “She flew clean, high — you could tell she needed the sky and the sun.”
According to experts, Calgary has a thriving blue heron population because of open waters, excellent fishing grounds and great habitat, especially during the spring and summer months.
“Some of the population stays over the winter — that’s a very small number of individuals — but we just have this really beautiful Bow River and several other parks that have open water year-round, so many individuals choose not to migrate,” Casper said.
AIWC encourages the public to call their Wildlife Hotline before attempting to rescue an animal that may be in distress. A trained member of their team can asses the situation over the phone and determine if the animal needs help and what measures can be taken.
“We also offer services in terms of wildlife rescue so if there is something happening that you’re not comfortable with bringing the bird into us — or another animal — we can send out a trained volunteer or staff member to bring the animal into our clinic,” Casper said.