My White-faced Heron story is one of those instances that make all our hard work worthwhile.
I was called to a Sydney waterfront home in whose gum tree white faced herons nest each year. This year they raised four young, but at fledging the parents were faced with a problem. The broods do not always fledge at the same time and the parents are forced to divide their attention between continued feeding of unfledged nestlings and care of the new fledglings.
In this case one died, one left the nest unable to fly, one stayed on the nest and the parents flew off with the “best” of the young. I was called to rescue the one on the wharf, as the parents had not returned for three days. Although this bird was unable to fly it could flutter pretty effectively, and in an attempt to get from one wharf to the other it landed in the water. I then had to strip off to my underwear and swim to its rescue. It fluttered away, but I eventually trapped it in the corner of a neighbour’s swimming pool.
This young heron was a magnificent bird, standing upright all day on his perch in the aviary and retreating to his “house” after eating or when he was worried.
In the wild the herons eat crustaceans, squid, fish, insects, spiders, snails and worms, but in captivity he rapidly became choosy and considered anything other than whitebait hardly worth bothering about. Whitebait can be bought from any garage or fish shop selling bait and some fish shops sell it fresh (the cheapest and best way to get it). I also pottered on the beach at low tide each day and collected any moving ‘things’ I could find for him and threw these morsels into his water bowl for him to fish out.
Ten days after my rescue he had nearly doubled his weight. I then had a call from the waterfront house to say the parents had returned, and the one who had been left on the nest (without food) had flown down to join them. I rushed ours back and released him. He walked along their wharf, then seeing his sibling flew to him on the wharf. They sat together and clacked their beaks and did a dance with wings outstretched. They were obviously happy to be together and I left when ‘mine’ decided to have a fly around and test his wings.
From time to time I have been down to the beach and have seen young herons around, and have hoped one is mine. Then, one month later a young heron sat on our roof and six weeks later a heron flew round and round our house. I went out and called him and he came down towards me each time I spoke. It must be ‘mine’ and he is well and happy and knows I was ‘mum’ for a short time.
Unfortunately it was not quite such a happy ending as I had hoped. The folk on the waterfront chopped down the herons’ tree because it dropped leaves into their swimming pool. This year I haven’t seen any herons on the beach at all. However, I did receive a call from a nearby boat-owner. “Herons are nesting on my boat and I want to slip it, what should I do?” I persuaded the really nice yachtie to wait for the young to leave the nest first.
Some you win, some you lose. That’s life.