CROW Case of the Week: Snowy Egret (#19-2509)

The snowy egret (Egretta thula) can also be referred to as a medium-sized heron with its long legs and long slender neck and bill. These elegant birds as adults are fully white except for black legs, yellow feet, black bill and a yellow patch at the base of its bill. 

If you see a snowy egret running back and forth through a body of water with its wings spread out, it is usually chasing its prey. Other times, these birds are not as dramatic and will sit still and wait for dinner to swim by. 

During breeding season, an adult snowy egret can develop longer wispy feathers on its back, neck and head. They sometimes mate with other heron species and produce hybrid offspring, such as tricolored herons, little blue herons and cattle egrets. 

At CROW, an adult snowy egret was admitted from Fort Myers after being found with its right wing tangled in fishing line. Upon examination, it was found that three primary flight feathers at the end of the wing were wrapped in the fishing line. There was severe bruising around the upper wing and elbow of the bird, but radiographs showed no fractures.

The patient was fortunate not to lose any feathers during the ordeal. “Luckily, the line was able to be removed with minimal damage to the ends of the primary feathers and no feathers were lost in the process,” said Dr. Robin Bast, CROW staff veterinarian. After removal of the fishing line, the snowy egret was treated with pain medication, anti-inflammatory medication and a body wrap to support the injured wing. 

“The bird only had a body wrap on for two days since it had a wing droop secondary to soft tissue injury,” said Dr. Bast. “This type of wrap keeps the wing tucked in a natural position against the side of the bird’s body.” However, the patient did fail an initial flight test. 

“The patient was still sore and unable to gain height when it attempted to fly the first time,” said Dr. Bast. “Radiographs were taken and no bones were fractured, so it was treated with anti-inflammatory medication for muscle soreness.” The snowy egret was able to recover and regained the strength needed for release. 

“A couple days later, the body wrap was removed and the wing droop had resolved,” said Dr. Bast. “The patient was able to fly better in its enclosure, and only had a very subtle wing droop after exercise. It took a couple days of anti-inflammatory medications and cage rest before the bird was able to fly well again.” The snowy egret was released back into the wild on June 25, only one week after it was admitted.

Some patients are not as lucky when it comes to entanglement. Education is ongoing for recycling fishing line. “We see many species of wildlife affected by fishing hooks and monofilament line that have inappropriately been discarded into the environment. The Mind Your Line initiative is a collaborative with other organizations on the island that educates people on the appropriate method of recycling those items, and how to help if you find a wild animal that is entangled or hooked,” said Dr. Bast. “This issue is preventable, and we are hoping this campaign helps reduce the number of patients admitted to our hospital for this reason.” 

CROW Case of the Week stories are written by Bob Petcher and appear weekly in the Island Sun and River Weekly Newspapers.

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