While we lived at the Ponce Marina, we noticed that there were a large number of egrets, pelicans and other large water birds around us. We noticed quite a few dead egrets in the water, and we could see as we walked down the dock – a large mangrove tree filled with water birds that sat in the middle of the water, not far from a dock across the way. It was dotted with splashes of white, as though it were some sort of unique Caribbean Christmas tree, or perhaps a delicate fruit. The squawks and squeaks from the various balls made it very clear that the splashes of color were avian in nature.
We really enjoyed the loud and expressive splash of nature so close to us, contrasted by the very well manicured and maintained marina. I wondered at the dead birds, but assumed that it was probably babies who wouldn’t have made it.
One day, as I was walking back to the boat from my rental car, I noticed a white shivering mass sitting along side the dock. I looked at it closer and realized it was one of the birds that I usually see dead in the water, a small egret. It was very very wet, and shivering as the 15 knot wind whistled past. I knew that birds get their warmth from the mass of air that the fluffy feathers keep on their skin, separated from the cold air outside. With the feathers all being very wet, that bird was getting chilled beyond what the drenching had done.
I went back to the boat and grabbed a couple of fluffy dry rags and Fiona, then we went back and found the bird sitting placidly where I’d left it. It had no energy to evade or fight me off, so it let me pick it up and hold it in the warm towel. I stood there, with the bird in my arms and worked and worked little by little to dry and fluff out it’s feathers.
Since I’ve worked with birds, I know that they enjoy having their feathers preened. As even as it would start to struggle and become scared, stroking and digging my fingers into the feathers around her cheeks brought calm and reassurance. As I fluffed all her feathers, I realized that she was indeed, a very young bird. I could see that the tips of her feathers were still had down from when she was a chick.
Annika and Fiona helped me dry her – and then, we let her down. She was very unsteady on her feet and we couldn’t get her to eat any egg yolk. We had no fish to offer her. They tried to return her to the tree we knew she came from, but were unable to do so as it actually had no where that it was close enough to land that they could access it. They released her back in the marina – to struggle to continue her young life. We hope she made it and didn’t end up back in the water. She’d escaped it once, by marina staff, who had washed her throughly and left her where I found her.
We don’t know if she lived but we do know we warmed her and gave her a better chance than she’d had before we encountered her.
This post is dedicated to our fluffy little egret and we have no regrets about helping her.