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Bird rescued on Fort Myers Beach in oil, released

Great Blue Hero was found at Bowditch Point Park covered in oil

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Oct 9, 2020

This great blue heron (being attended to by Dr. Melanie Peel) was rescued at Bowditch Point Park in Fort Myers Beach covered in oil. He has been undergoing rehabilitation at the CROW clinic in Sanibel.

A great blue heron was “very lucky to be found” after he was discovered last week at Bowditch Point Park covered in oil, said Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) rehab manager Breanna Frankel.

After a week of rehabilitation, including multiple baths to wash out the oil and peel it off, the bird was released on Saturday morning at Bunche Beach Preserve by CROW.

Robert Howell, a volunteer for CROW and a naturalist at Pink Shell Resort (as well as a Calusa Waterkeeper ranger) said he was called out to Bowditch Point Park on Oct. 2 to rescue the bird after a runner spotted him near the restrooms.

Howell considers the incident suspicious since no other birds were found in oil and there were no oil slicks found in the water, he said. “There were no oil slicks anywhere,” Howell said. He said the bird was covered in black oil.

“It had to have been done very close to hear,” he said. Howell found the bird rubbing against a railing at the restrooms. He was unable to fly due to the amount of oil covering his feathers.

CROW volunteer and Calusa Waterkeeper ranger (and Pink Shell Resort naturalist) Robert Howell rescued this great blue heron covered in oil at Bowditch Point Park in Fort Myers Beach on Oct. 2.

Howell had a bit of a tussle with the bird to get him into his vehicle. “He stood up to his full height” and tried to go through the railing when approached, Howell said. “He put a couple holes in my glove.”

Frankel said the oil was likely from a boat or somebody in a commercial boat. “This bird came in very soon after it happened,” she said.

The U.S. Coast Guard responded to the scene and searched for signs of an oil spill or leak in the water but found none. “I didn’t see any traces of oil,” U.S. Coast Guard Marine Science Technician Justin Haffner said. Haffner said he spoke with those operating the dredging boats, who acknowledged being aware of the oil-covered bird.

“He came in covered in oil,” Frankel said of the bird in a video posted by CROW. “For us to see an oil case is pretty rare. We typically only get a couple every single year.”

Luckily for the bird, the oil hadn’t dried enough to destroy its feathers. The staff at CROW began a wash process to prevent feather damage. If the bird hadn’t been rescued in time, the feathers could have burned from the oil, Frankel said. The bird could have lost its ability to fly. “If they can’t waterproof properly” they can also drown, she said.

This great blue heron was rescued at Bowditch Point Park in Fort Myers Beach covered in oil. He has been undergoing rehabilitation at the CROW clinic in Sanibel.

The migratory heron was treated with dawn dish soap and multiple baths to rinse off the oil, Frankel said.

Frankel said the bird was found with oil in its mouth, which can pose a deadly threat if enough was ingested.

“We have been peeling it off day after day and trying to clean it to the best of our abilities but it is really stuck in there so we do have some concerns for this bird that it did ingest some oil,” Frankel said.

CROW spokesperson Brian Bohlman said the clinic’s staff believe they were able to remove the last remaining bit of oil they could after a fourth bath on Thursday.

After being flight tested on Friday, the bird was released on Saturday morning.

There has been an ongoing dredging project in the area near the park, though U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson David Ruderman said the boats working on the project (owned and operated by Cavache Inc.) were not responsible for any fuel spills. There are monitors on the dredge would have picked up any such spill, he said.

Howell said the great blue heron was “a little reluctant” to leave his cage when brought to the beach on Saturday but once he stepped out he “immediately flew off north to the Sanibel Causeway.”