This Is What Happened to the Tanner Springs Heron

By Ali Berman, Communications Manager

On my fifth day of work at my new job at the Bird Alliance of Oregon, I sat down with Deb Sheaffer, the veterinarian at the Care Center. I wanted to learn more about their rehabilitation work and the specific animals currently under their care. While talking about three Green Herons, the topic of Great Blue Herons came up and I told Deb that I missed the Heron who used to regularly visit Tanner Springs Park in the Pearl. I hadn’t seen the bird all summer.

Great Blue Heron at Tanner Springs Park in NW Portland. Photo by Ali Berman

She looked at me and recalled a story from a few months ago about a local Great Blue Heron in the city who, unfortunately, had been found dead. I waited with a stone in my stomach as she looked back through the paperwork to see if that Heron and the Tanner Springs Heron were one and the same.

And then I saw the news. The Great Blue Heron I used to see each day as I walked through the park died on May 8, 2015.

A call came in to the Care Center about a Heron at NW 10th and Marshall. “It was quite dramatic actually,” said Care Center Volunteer, Kathy Whaley, when I called her to ask about what happened. “I got a call from a woman who was very distraught. I had a hard time figuring out what she was saying because she was so upset.”

Some of the locals who knew the Tanner Springs Heron as well as I did found the bird in the water and called our Care Center believing that the bird had been shot.

Kathy drove the mile and a half from the sanctuary down to Tanner Springs and waded into the water to retrieve the bird. The body was completely submerged.

Immediately, Kathy saw that a single two inch fishing hook had pierced the bird through both the corner of the beak and the foot, essentially crippling the Heron.

Kathy and others at the Care Center believe that the Heron likely tried to get the hook out of its mouth using its foot, and then wound up with both body parts caught by the sharp metal. Once tangled in such an awkward position, the bird likely fell over. A Great Blue Heron, when at full height, can stand between from 3.2 to 4.5 feet tall. This one drowned in approximately 15 inches of water.

Fishing equipment such as hooks, lures and fishing line take the lives of countless birds, marine mammals, fish, and other species. If someone had simply removed their hook from the water, the Tanner Springs Heron could still be alive today.

During the Heron’s time in Portland, thousands of people, young and old, marveled at the giant bird standing in the man-made marsh right in downtown Portland. They would watch the bird hunt for fish, wade through the water, and lift off, displaying that massive wingspan. Many people still walk through Tanner Springs Park, hoping to see that familiar face, not knowing that the Heron is no longer with us.

Last night, as I walked by the park I keenly felt the Heron’s absence and can only hope that its story will help save the lives of other birds.

I’d like to share with you some of my favorite pictures I took of the Tanner Springs Heron in the summer of 2014.

Every year the Wildlife Care Center treats 3,000 injured or orphaned native animals. If you would like to make a donation to support our wildlife rehabilitation work at the Wildlife Care Center, click here.