Oiled Great Blue Heron Returns to the Wild

What does it take to get an oiled heron back into the wild? Seven baths and an industrial-sized blow drier, among other things.

Great Blue Heron receives bath to remove oil - Photo by Tinsley Hunsdorfer

This Great Blue Heron arrived at the care center in March with oil coating its feathers, legs and bill. The adult bird was found near the Clackamas River, but there was no visible oil source at the location – it’s not clear how or where the heron became covered in the black, sticky substance.

After examining the bird and giving it an injection of rehydrating fluids, veterinarian Deb Sheaffer and care center manager Lacy Campbell gave the heron a series of baths in warm, soapy water. Throughout the process, they wore protective pants and gloves that are designed for working with oiled wildlife.

Instead of scrubbing the bird, Deb and Lacy simply agitated the bath water – the soap took care of the rest. As soon as the water became clouded with oil, the heron was swapped into another tub containing clean water. It took seven rounds to get the oil off of the bird.

The heron was then towel-dried and placed in a cage with an industrial-sized blow drier stationed nearby. It was important to get the bird completely dry or else risk hypothermia.

The bath soap stripped natural oils from the heron’s feathers, so care center volunteers spritzed the bird with water a few days later to stimulate it to preen. Herons, like most birds, spread a water-resistant layer of natural oil through their feathers as they preen.

Next, we moved the heron to Bird Alliance of Oregon’s large, off-site flight cage. After testing its wings for two weeks, the heron was ready to be released, and it successfully flapped its way back into the wild a few days ago.