Great Blue Heron, #12-1232

Admission Date: 
June 9, 2012
Release Date: 
June 14, 2012
Location of Rescue: 
Louisa County, Virginia
Cause of Admission / Condition: 
Swallowed rope and ringer
Patient Status: 
Patient Archive

On June 8, a permitted rehabilitator in Louisa County found a Great Blue Heron standing beside a guard rail – the bird had swallowed one end of a rope that was tied to the rail.   The rehabilitator quickly caught the bird and cut the rope that was tied around the rail. The bird was admitted to the Wildlife Center on Saturday, June 9.

Dr. Adam and team examined the bird – they were able to feel the nylon rope along the entire length of the bird’s esophagus. The heron was anesthetized for radiographs, so that Dr. Adam could get a good idea of what the heron had swallowed, and where it was in the bird’s body. Dr. Adam and team fully expected to see some sort of hook at the end of the line – but instead, they saw a metal ring that was about the size of a nickel. The ring was in the heron’s ventriculus – the second part of a bird’s two-part stomach. Once they had a good image of the ring, the veterinary team realized they could also feel the ring through the bird’s skin.


While many other Wildlife Center members were at the Saturday evening Carter Mountain event, Dr. Adam took the Great Blue Heron to emergency surgery to remove the metal ring. Since the heron was already anesthetized for radiographs, Dr. Adam began the procedure and made an incision in the heron’s abdomen. He pulled out the portion of the bird’s digestive tract where the ring was, and carefully contained the area so that the surgical site would not be contaminated by the contents of the heron’s intestines. Dr. Adam was able to cut the metal ring off of the line, which allowed the veterinary students to carefully pull the two-foot nylon rope back out of the heron’s mouth. The entire procedure lasted about 30 minutes.

The heron recovered well from surgery and was moved to an outdoor aviary the next day. Herons are notoriously fussy eaters in captivity, so while the rehabilitation staff did offer a variety of fish, the veterinary staff decided to proactively tube-feed the heron twice a day, to ensure it was getting enough nutrition. After several days of tube-feeding and finishing a five-day course of antibiotics, the veterinarians declared that the incision site had healed beautifully and the bird was cleared for release.

On Thursday, June 14, the heron’s rescuer picked up the bird and returned it to Louisa County for release.

So … what DID the heron swallow?  Center staff believe that the heron spotted some fish that had been placed on a fisherman’s stringer. The heron ate the fish – and the stringer.