Great Blue Heron Makes a Full Recovery After Suffering a Gunshot Wound

By Kelsey Kuhnhausen, Communications Coordinator

The Portland-area is home to amazing wildlife populations, with more than 300 species of birds, fish, mammals, and more. Even in our most developed urban areas, we see Bald Eagles flying overhead, brush rabbits scampering underfoot, coyotes denning in parks, and bats diving through dusky skies. Wildlife are part of our landscape, and their diversity and abundance are just a few of the many reasons Portland is such an incredible place to call home.

Great Blue Heron receives exam. Photo by Kelsey Kuhnhausen

However, human relationships with wildlife aren’t always so rosy. Deer get into our gardens, skunks den under porches, crows raid garbage cans, woodpeckers bang loudly on houses. Unfortunately, these confrontations don’t always go well. Animals labeled as nuisance species are oftentimes managed and dealt with in inhumane and sometimes deadly and illegal ways, as seen recently in the poisoning of crows in NE Portland.

What do we do when humans and animals collide? How do we responsibly resolve conflicts with wild animals who share our urban forest, backyards, parks, and city streets?

When an injured Great Blue Heron made its way into the Care Center this April, our staff had a feeling that it too was suffering from human-caused injuries.

The heron was found in a neighborhood near Tryon Creek in Southwest Portland, visibly injured and unable to fly. A concerned resident called the Wildlife Care Center and a volunteer was sent out to retrieve the bird.

When it arrived at the Care Center, the cause of debilitation was not immediately obvious. There was blood inside the transport crate, but no sign of abrasion.

“Anytime an injured heron comes in, I do an X-ray,” explained Wildlife Care Center Manager, Lacy Campbell. “Gunshot wounds are very common in herons, and many similar cases have come through the Care Center over the years.”

After a full examination and x-rays, it was confirmed: the heron had been shot and had a bullet lodged in its back.

Unfortunately, illegal shooting of protected bird species remains an all too common problem in our region. Even though they are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, Great Blue Herons and other protected native birds are often targeted — even within the city limits of Portland. The penalties for illegally harming a protected bird species can range up to $15,000 and/or six months in jail.

An x-ray revealed that a bullet was lodged in the back of the Great Blue Heron

While we can’t know for sure what the motivation behind shooting this heron might be, oftentimes these birds are shot or injured in the city when they’re targeting Koi, a fish kept in many backyard ponds.

“It’s common that these birds get shot because they will try to eat Koi from people’s ponds. I’ve had a number of them come into the Care Center shot because of that. I’ve also picked them up electrocuted from fences due to Koi ponds,” said Campbell.

Most Great Blue Herons that suffer gunshot wounds don’t survive. In fact, according to Campbell, this is one of the first shooting-related heron cases treated in Wildlife Care Center with a positive prognosis.

Luckily for the heron, the bullet was lodged into the muscle and did not inflict bone, tendon, or joint damage. Over the course of several weeks, the Care Center monitored the heron to see how it would heal.

The heron spent more than a week in the flight cage, building up strength and conditioning before being released into the wild.

The heron received regular checkups and medication, and showed excellent signs for full recovery. The bird was transferred to an outdoor flight cage, where it was given time to build up its strength to fly.

Photo by Kelsey Kuhnhausen

After more than a month of care, the heron made a full recovery and was released back into the wild by Wildlife Care Center volunteers and Denise Phillis, the Good Samaritan who discovered the injured bird.

“It was great to be a part of the release and see the bird so healthy and able to fly away. It was not able to do that the day we found it. Bird Alliance of Oregon did a great job,” said Phillis.

The heron was released into the wild by Care Center staff and Denise Phillis, the Good Samaritan who found the bird.

Photo by Ali Berman

While this Great Blue Heron was lucky to get another chance at life, the question remains: how do we mitigate risk and conflict with wildlife?  How do we coexist with the wild animals with whom we share this landscape?

It all starts with an awareness that our actions have consequences.

“What we do to our yards and neighborhoods has an impact on wildlife, whether it’s positive or negative,” said Campbell.

“When we build a Koi pond, have bird feeders, or keep backyard chickens, they become easy targets for wildlife to exploit these as a food source,” she said. “Everything we do has an impact.”

Next time you’re experiencing urban wildlife in a negative way, think about what circumstance brought them to your yard, street, building, or city in the first place. Examine ways that you can address the root of the problem in a way that benefits everyone. And remember, these animals are usually acting on instincts or searching for the basics: a place to sleep, a meal, or a place to nest.

If you’re experiencing negative impacts from urban wildlife, our Wildlife Care Center is here to help and we have several resources available that outline ways to address challenges presented by species. In addition to caring for injured or orphaned animals, the goal the Care Center is to educate people about ways to coexist with nature and reduce wildlife hazards and conflicts. Visit our website or feel free to contact our Wildlife Care Center with any questions: 503-292-0304.

Providing care for animals from Bald Eagles to Western Tanagers to Beavers takes considerable resources. Please consider making a donation to Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Care Center to ensure that we are able to treat native wildlife with the highest quality of care possible. Our staff and volunteers treat 3,000 animals a year, field more than 10,000 phone calls with wildlife related questions, and educate millions on how we peacefully resolve conflicts. Your gift can save the lives of wild animals and inspire nature lovers of all ages with a lifelong connection with nature and wildlife! Make a gift today.