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Great Blue Heron Regains Flight after Major Surgery at SFWC

After having a bone amputated, a Great Blue Heron was able to regain flight thanks to SFWC’s new marsh bird habitat.

  • The Great Blue Heron taking off after being released. The HSUS

  • The heron when he arrived at our wildlife hospital. The HSUS

  • The heron being examined by our staff at our wildlife hospital. The HSUS

  • The Great Blue Heron testing out his wings after being released into our new marsh bird habitat.The HSUS

  • The Great Blue Heron testing out his wings after being released into our new marsh bird habitat.The HSUS

  • The heron on his way to the release site. The HSUS

  • The Great Blue Heron taking off after being released. The HSUS

With a broad wingspan, long elegant neck and even longer legs, the Great Blue Heron is a distinctive and beautiful bird. It’s quite a sight to see one gliding through the air, with slow and powerful wingbeats, his neck tucked in and long legs trailing behind.

This past fall, one of our wildlife rescue ambulances brought in one of these striking birds with a severe trauma to one of his wings. It was a worrisome case, not only because of the extent of the injury—the bone was exposed—but also because it was unclear whether the bird would be able to fly again.

When the bird arrived he was thin, but feisty, which was a good sign because the treatment and recovery was not going to be simple. Due to the exposed bone, our veterinary staff was considering amputation to make closing up the wound easier and to avoid infection. But we had never performed the procedure before and, as with many innovative and even routine fixes, we were not certain of the outcome.

Fortunately, the bone that was exposed—the alula—is a vestigial bone in birds, one that is not essential for their wings to function properly. And with our new marsh bird habitat, where the bird could fully stretch his wings and freely practice flight while recovering in the safety of an enclosure, we felt he had a good chance of full recovery.

So we moved forward with the procedure, and after the bone was removed, the wound was bandaged and our veterinary staff began laser therapy to assist with the healing process. Fortunately the wound did not become inflamed or infected, and before long a scab developed, meaning we could soon transfer him from the hospital into our outdoor habitat to evaluate his ability to fly.

As the bird’s wound healed, he began eating more, and we knew it was time to test out his wings in our new marsh bird habitat. Turns out we didn’t need to worry, because the bird very quickly regained the use of his wings, and after a few days of practicing, he was ready to be released back into the wild.

Although the bird came to us with a pretty severe injury, we were able to provide him with expert care through our wildlife hospital, as well as with the proper habitat for him to recover in after undergoing such a major procedure. This level of care would not be possible without your support. Please consider making a small donation to the South Florida Wildlife Center to ensure we can continue to help injured wildlife across South Florida 365 days a year.

Watch a video of this Great Blue Heron testing out his wings in our marsh bird habitat:

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