Crews take heron under their wing

Survivor: Howard rescuers free a protected species dangling from a tree, caught in string or fishing line.

April 26, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Howard County Fire and Rescue Services responded in full force to a distress call Wednesday night - a great blue heron was dangling 60 feet above ground from a tree near the Little Patuxent River in Savage.

The assembled rescuers - two fire engines, a ladder truck and 14 firefighters from volunteer and career companies - required about 30 minutes to untangle the injured young male from what appeared to be kite string or fishing line.

Two firefighters in an aerial ladder basket wrapped the heron - a protected species - in a blanket and carefully cut away the line before taking him to the Savage fire station to await assistance from a wildlife rescue group.

Such a rescue is potentially dangerous because a great blue heron can wield its long, sharp yellow beak like a sword, said David Pardoe, a member of the Audubon Society of Central Maryland.

But the trapped heron was not interested in stabbing anyone Wednesday night, fire Battalion Chief Kevin Aftung said. "It almost seemed like he was happy to see people there to help him out."

The rescue operation at 7:30 p.m. drew a small crowd of onlookers from the Eve-Mar mobile home park, where the tree is, firefighters said.

"The residents there were tickled to death at our response," Aftung said. A wildlife and bird lover himself, Aftung said he did not hesitate to authorize a response to the heron-in-distress call.

Like the bystanders, workers from wildlife rescue groups were surprised - and pleased - with the Fire and Rescue response.

Few departments take the time to rescue trapped animals, said Gerda Deterer, president of the Wild Bird Rescue Foundation in Dundalk. Her sentiments were echoed by Tom Scrollins of TS Wildlife Control Co., who picked up the heron Wednesday night.

"It is very rare for them to call us," Deterer said. "Sometimes fire departments ... we really have to ask them for their help."

Deterer cared for the heron at the foundation until about noon yesterday, when he was moved to the more spacious Carrie Murray Nature Center run by the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks.

With the four toes on his right foot curled loosely, the heron stepped gingerly yesterday afternoon when he walked across his cage. He ignored his meal of three dead mice floating in a pail of water - a sure sign he was not ready to go back into the wild, caretakers said.

But the wildlife workers said they expected the bird would be released within days.

Other than a hurt leg and some ruffled feathers on his right wing, the heron is looking good, said Corinne Parks, program director of the Carrie Murray Center, which is in Leakin Park.

The heron is one of the lucky ones. Discarded fishing line is one of the biggest obstacles facing the great blue heron and other large birds, Pardoe said.

People cast out a line, get it caught in a tree and cut it, he said. But the loose line can wind itself around a bird's leg or wing. The panicked bird often further complicates the problem while trying to free itself.

"It's good that someone spotted him and was able to free him," Deterer said. "In a lot of instances, that's not the case - they die."

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