(Editor’s Note: Cliff Amos sent the following story the day after the rescue happened. Rather than rewrite it from another perspective, we decided to run his first-person account with his byline.)
I thought you might enjoy this event that happened March 19. It is a heartwarming success story, but with a cautionary side.
For about a week, we (Sun City Bird Club members) had been told about a Great Blue Heron that had been seen with a water bottle shrink-wrap around its neck.
I went to the site near Hidden Cypress Golf Course. Two Bird Club ladies and I attempted to catch this large bird. But it could still fly enough to go across the lagoon to evade us.
After a few tries, we felt that we didn’t want to tire the bird, and have it go in the water. Great Blue Herons are waders – they don’t swim. If he went down in deep water, he would essentially become gator food. So, we called it a night.
On Saturday we got word of a Facebook post about seeing this bird, with the blueish plastic and all, on the peak of a house – complete with picture and address. I went over there to see if I could find him, and then maybe call around for some help.
It was raining so I was able to walk some golf cart paths in that area. No luck.
The next morning, I received a call from a lady who was actively watching this “large gray bird, with plastic around its neck.” I knew immediately that this was the one.
I quickly called a friend and fellow Bird Club member, Linda Maslowski, who has experience with rescuing large birds of prey and shorebirds. My wife, Ruth, and I quickly got in the car and got over there.
We found the bird just behind the house against a small bush at the edge of a lagoon. Linda arrived and we made a plan. We would attempt to throw a sheet over it.
But again, the bird quickly became suspicious and glided across the lagoon.
Next plan: We would try to get close and toss a towel over any part of it, then I would try to get one over its head. The ultimate goal is to get its beak in control for safety’s sake.
As we approached him, he was again right on the bank of the lagoon. Linda made the attempt to throw the towel and the heron tried to fly, but just could run forward. Hindered by that awful plastic, he went a few yards out into the water.
Almost simultaneously, we heard a splash on the other side. A gator now realized a bird was in the water. We had to act quick.
Linda got into the shallow water and just stood still, not wanting to stress the bird. We now had the advantage!
By this time, the heron got its footing and was slowly walking back to the shore avoid her. As it got closer Linda was able to reach out and just grab a wing tip.
I jumped into the water and was able to wrap my gloved hand around its beak. Linda put her arm around it and we walked slowly backwards up to the bank.
Holding it carefully, we maneuvered the plastic around to allow Ruth to cut the plastic away from its neck. It wasn’t just draped over the neck – it was wrapped around it twice.
With the plastic off I held the bird while Linda got on shore, and I transferred it to her. We looked over the bird as well as we could. No noticeable abrasions around the neck. No bleeding, etc.
Linda released its feet and set the bird on the grass. It just stood there a few seconds then walked about 5 yards away.
Again, it just looked around for a few minutes. It never seemed agitated, never made a sound. Then, it calmly opened its wings and with a couple of flaps glided over the lagoon, and then smoothly (no plastic hanging from its neck) flew away over the trees.
The three of us began to high-five, with hugs, smiles, laughter and tears.
Only in a naturalist’s fantasies could this happen.
Cliff Amos is the current president of the Sun City Bird Club