Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bye-bye, Bittern

by Alyssa Womer
Wildlife Services Intern

What did you do this past fourth of July? Have a barbeque with friends and family? Set off some fireworks? Whatever you did, I’m sure you enjoyed your holiday more than the American Bittern recently released from our care here at VINS. 

On July 6th, a member of the public found a fledgling bittern wandering around in his yard in Putney, VT. This might not be unusual, as most fledgling birds spend a lot of time on the ground exploring how their wings work and figuring out how to eat without the help of their parents. However, the American Bittern inhabits freshwater wetlands populated by dense reeds, and our bittern was discovered over a mile from the nearest body of water! 

Upon arrival at VINS, we discovered that the bird was thin, likely because he was orphaned. We tube-fed the bittern a rehydrating solution and some fish slurry (a blended mixture of small fish, high-protein dog food, and vitamins), and he perked up in no time! By his second day in our care, the bittern was ready to eat whole dead fish, which we fed to him via tweezers. After a few days, we began leaving live minnows in a small pool in his enclosure. We continued to feed him a mixture of live and dead fish as well as small dead mice. 




After two and a half weeks at VINS, the bittern’s weight had almost doubled, putting him in the healthy range. The bittern became reluctant to accept hand-fed fish and mice, and we recognized that as a sign that he was ready return to the wild! Soon after, we transported the bittern to the banks of the Ottauquechee River, just off the VINS Nature Trail. We found a spot thick with reeds and cattails, where the bittern could utilize his vertically-striped camouflage plumage, and set him down facing the water. He made a speedy exit, and it was clear our bittern was ready to take care of himself. We were happy to see him return to the wild, and he was feisty to the bitter(n) end!




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