Against All Odds: Heron’s Remarkable Recovery From Fishing Line and Gunshot Injuries

Veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr removed a BB-gun pellet, which was lodged inside the bird’s body cavity between the liver and heart, underneath the bird’s sternum. Photos by Kelly Beffa – International Bird Rescue

The encroachment of human activities poses a looming threat to wildlife, jeopardizing biodiversity and imposing challenges that jeopardize the delicate balance of our planet. Bird Rescue strives to give every bird who falls victim to these threats a second chance at life. Thanks to these efforts, this Black-crowned Night-Heron patient, who recently suffered from life-threatening injuries caused by both fishing line entanglement and a gunshot wound, made a miraculous recovery.

Radiographs revealed a BB-gun pellet located dangerously close to the Black-crowned Night-Heron’s heart.

On November 17, this heron was found hanging in a tree 30 feet from the ground, entangled in monofilament. He was brought to Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek, CA for stabilization and later transferred to Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center, where radiographs revealed an additional life-threatening condition: a BB-gun pellet located dangerously close to his heart.

Due to the nature of his injuries, the prognosis for this bird was uncertain. Veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Duerr performed surgery to remove the pellet, which was lodged inside the bird’s body cavity between the liver and heart, underneath the bird’s sternum. It turned out that the pellet was actually lodged in the wall of the bird’s pericardium at the very tip of the heart, which could be seen pumping away. Throughout the procedure, Wildlife Center Manager Kelly Beffa, RVT, was monitoring the bird’s anesthesia and had been managing a significant arrhythmia where the bird’s heart was skipping beats. As soon as Dr. Duerr removed the pellet, Kelly reported that the bird’s heart rhythm suddenly became normal.

Dr. Duerr described what she saw inside the bird’s chest like this: “I had to cut into the pericardium (the membrane that encloses the heart) because the pellet was lodged in it, and once it was removed I could see a literal dent in the apex (tip) of the heart. I watched for several minutes to see if it would start bleeding because I was afraid the bullet might have pierced the heart and the bird was in danger of massive bleeding. But instead, the heart just kept beating away and the hemorrhage didn’t happen. So I decided to close the incision and
wake him up. This amazing bird woke up like any other surgical patient, just fine.”

Once the incision had healed and the heron was flying well, he was medically cleared to be returned to the wild on December 6. Watching him take flight after surviving two human-caused problems instills a profound sense of hope. With compassion and dedication, we can contribute to the restoration of our interconnected natural world.

Miraculous recoveries like this would not be possible without your support. Please consider making a donation to help us continue this important life-saving work.