I got a call from the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center that last week and they planned to release 7 of the 9 great blue heron chicks recovered after the tornado last Monday. They invited a couple of us from my park (the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area to be there) and I got to release one of the herons and my fellow Park Ranger Gordon took photos.
This was the great blue heron in my box. The herons have come a long way from when they were first admitted to the WRC. Videos on YouTube showed their progress--here's one of the chicks honing its fishing skills.
The birds were released at Cenaiko Lake at Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park--a perfect spot since the lake is managed and stocked for trout fishing. It's also not too far from the Coon Rapids Dam heron rookery, so they will be able to watch the local adults to see where they go to forage and learn from them. Perhaps one of the adults renesting in the park is a parent of one of the released chicks? There won't be any magical family reunion, if these are any of their chicks, too much time has passed for the adults to regard these chicks as anything other than a competitor for food and territory.
I took this shot with my phone. My heron was one of two that hung out in the water for several minutes after release. I'm sure some if it had to do with the confusion of a new situation for them but the day we released the herons was the first day of that nasty heatwave that ravaged the midwest last week--yuck. I think they just wanted to cool off.
The heron from my box eventually flew to the edge of the lake where it was promptly bapped by some red-winged blackbirds who didn't take kindly to it being in their territory. It then found an edge where it could gather its thoughts in peace and heat. It started panting and I could understand why. I was in my full on Park Ranger uniform and I have to tell you that the poly-wool blend the government makes us wear retains heat like nobody's business. I was only out in the heat in under 30 minutes and I'm certain I lost 5 pounds in sweat. My clothes were soaked through when I got to the car. Eventually the heron flew to a shadier spot close to the water, ready to fish.
And so this is a happier ending to the Minneapolis tornado for the herons. Though many nests were lost, the herons rebuilt and a handful of chicks have been returned to the wild. These chicks have aa good of a chance as any raised completely in the wild and I hope that they will figure out the best fishing spots and have a chance to migrate south and return next year.
And I leave you with a funny video of the herons from the WRC not long before their release. One of the chicks decides to take on a monster sunfish. With that sort of can do spirit, I'm sure the will do fine: