The chain of events that saved the life of the baby white-faced heron began months before the stormy night it fell from the nest. The eternal rain also played a part, for if this winter had been as mild as last, the bulls wouldn’t have busted through a weak spot in the fence to scoff rank kikuyu.
Our fence fix was such a limp effort I moved the horse elsewhere when the bulls returned to the troublesome paddock and this turned out to be a wise move. Five bulls invaded the paddock and it was mid morning before the farmer returned them to their mates which by then had moved to fresh pasture.
He came home from this mission carrying a sodden, bedraggled and ominously still baby heron he’d found under the macrocarpa where the birds nest. Later he said it had looked so near death that he’d considered chopping off its head to put it out of its misery.
Soon the chick was in front of the blow heater while I turned it regularly to ensured it dried out and didn’t get toasted. A Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre volunteer advised that a hot water bottle be brought into service.
As the little bird dried out, life flowed back in and the bird perked up so much it squawked when it felt threatened, but soon gave up this aggressive attitude.
Recovery Centre staff had advised us against feeding it, but it did seem pleased to get a speck of smoked mullet down its gullet. Its body was the size of a large pine cone.
That evening Little Feathers, named by a friend, joined our three cats in front of the fire, kept safe by a mesh cage over its box. Residual heat keeps the room warm, but in the early hours I refilled the hottie. Little Features slept curled in a tight ball.
The next morning it was awake and alert, watching as I prepared to set off for the Recovery Centre. It spent the journey curled up in her – or his – box. Little Feathers waited in my warm car during my morning appointment and, by the time I returned, was sitting up and swivelling her head to check out the surroundings. I was enchanted. The feathers on her neck lay in a spiral pattern as if she could turn her head full circle.
A Recovery Centre volunteer gave us a warm welcome, took Little Feathers into her arms and muttered about the foolishness of white-faced herons. “They make ridiculous nests,” she said. “A few sticks crossed over each other high in a tree.” I imagined a set up for noughts and crosses.
She assured me that when the time came to release the bird, it would return to its home at Batley and I can hardly wait.
As I farewelled Little Feathers knowing she would get better care than the farmer and I could give her, I felt a rush of emotion. Saving that bird’s life had been extraordinarily rewarding.
Little Feathers will enjoy a bonus in life simply because it fell from the nest. The little grey bird won’t be forced to take its maiden flight from an uppermost branch of a tall macrocarpa.
Having watched baby herons teeter for ages as they pluck up courage to fly while their mother screams instructions from nearby, I reckon it might almost have been worth taking the fall on that dark and stormy night.