Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
The great blue heron’s distinctive ‘S’ shaped neck has special vertebrae that can quickly and violently rocket its piercing bill towards unsuspecting prey. Thanks to a high percentage of rod-type photoreceptors in their eyes they have impressive low light vision, allowing them to hunt in the dark of night. The great blue heron preys upon pretty much anything within their striking range, not limited to fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, insects, and other birds. They will use their sword-like bill to impale larger prey, which is often followed by aggressive shaking in an effort to relax sharp spines to make swallowing less painful.
Whether it’s fish slime or swamp muck, the great blue heron often finds itself in messy situations. Fortunately special feathers on their chest that continuously grow and fray greatly aid in cleaning. They comb this “powder down” with an adapted claw on their middle toes, using the down much like a washcloth to clean oils and slime from feathers while preening. The great blue heron even applies powder to their lower body to protect against oils encountered while wading through water.
Fred is a great blue heron who struck a power pole and was then admitted to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) Veterinary Medical Centre. Upon admission he was underweight, dehydrated and possibly had an underlying infection. The Wild and Exotic Animal Medicine Society (WEAMS) is a non-profit organization operated by student volunteers at the WCVM and they’ve been aiding in Fred’s care. He continues to receive ongoing fluids, an assortment of fish and his condition is improving.
For more information about WEAMS and their amazing work, here’s a more comprehensive article: words.usask.ca/wcvm/2013/07/wcvm-students-go-wild-for-wil...