Saturday, September 8, 2012

Great Blue Heron with a broken bill

A Great Blue Heron with a broken bill, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 6/13/2012.
Earlier this summer while I was hiking in Rock Cut State Park, I was watching a Great Blue Heron (Above) about 200 feet across a secluded pond. I didn't notice it on my first few photos, but as I zoomed in, something looked unusual about its bill. It looked broken, but because of the branches behind its head, it was hard to discern from my distance.
The same Great Blue with a broken bill,  Rock Cut State Park, IL; 6/13/2012
When it turned to a more profile position, the broken bill was more evident (Above), as its upper mandible was bent up in a 45 degree angle. I wondered how this might have happened and also expected that this condition would greatly handicap its ability to hunt fish and other food.
A close up of its broken bill, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 6/13/2012
 At a closer look (Above), you can see that the upper bill is broken off and bent up and to one side. The lower mandible also seemed shorter than the usual size of a Great Blue. Compare the photo to a Great Blue Heron with a normal bill (Below).

Another Great Blue heron, RCSP, IL: 7/16/2012.
As you can see (Above), the lower mandible seems to extend further out than on the Heron with the broken bill. The Heron with the broken bill was obviously an adult-sized bird, so I am speculating that the injured bill was probably recent. It most likely was not born in this condition because it wouldn't have been able to hunt and feed very well, thus not letting it grow to normal size. And more than likely the broken portion of the bill would have long fallen off.

If the broken bill condition has been with this bird for some time, I am wondering how it has adapted its hunting skills in order to survive. It seems to me that it would have to jab deeper in the water to catch its prey in the back half of its bill, instead of a normal Heron who could nab a fish with the slimmer and pointed end of the bill. I am also wondering that if indeed this injured bird has been a successful hunter, what kind of prey it has been able to capture. It probably cannot probe into the mud at the bottom of a pond to catch crustaceans, but it might be able to grab onto slower prey such as turtles or larger fish such as catfish that it might be able to hold onto with its back half of its bill.

This is the only time I have seen this particular handicapped Heron, but I haven't been out to Rock Cut State Park much during the summer. Now that it's three months later, it would be interesting to find this guy again and what kind of condition it might be in.

1 comment:

Becca Mulenburg said...

These photos are hard to look at. Very sad. I understand zooming in and finding surprises. Happened to me with a robin. Upon closer inspection, one foot was deformed. If this heron were ever to be captured, I wonder if there would be any way to rehabilitate his beak, i.e. has it ever been done before?