Feathered fishers: Catch-and-release stories from Lake Erie Nature & Science Center

Lake Erie Nature & Science Center Wildlife Rehabilitation Coordinator Amy LeMonds prepares to release a Great Blue Heron. The big bird was brought into the rehab program tangled in fishing line.

For many of us living along Lake Erie, summertime brings the promise of warm, shimmering water teeming with fish ripe for the catching. While we go out on jetties or boats and cast our lines, other creatures spread their wings and wet their beaks to catch a few fish of their own. This summer at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center, we’ve been fortunate to have several cases of fish-catching avian wildlife which were released back into the wild. While here, they taught us a few lessons about the beauty of nature and the challenges that living wild in Northeast Ohio brings.

One of the many threats posed to wildlife as an unfortunate result of human recreational activities is fishing line left behind. Several weeks ago, our rehab team received a Great Blue Heron with fishing line wrapped around its body. The heron was in poor health due to extreme stress and dehydration. The fishing line was removed and the heron was stabilized. After determining there was no serious damage, the bird was released back into the wild five days after admittance.

We also had a success story with a young Barred Owl, who was brought into the Center by the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODW). Not many people think of owls as fish feeders but Barred Owls are one of the only owls that are skilled "fishermen." The owl had blood in its eyes, and after a trip to the ophthalmologist it was determined that it had a retinal tear. A course of steroids was administered to aid in the healing process. After the treatment, the owl was reevaluated by the ophthalmologist, who determined that the eyes had improved significantly. The next evening the bird was successfully hunting and was released shortly after.

The latest news from our team includes the story of a young Belted Kingfisher still recovering in our rehabilitation program. It arrived with weak legs and the inability to fly, likely due to some sort of trauma. After a course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, this bird has improved and is now perching, flying and even hunting goldfish. I had the opportunity to visit our feathered patient early this week, and as soon as I walked into the cage it opened its scissor-like, navy-blue beak and cackled a chirruping warning to keep my distance.

The stories of the Great Blue Heron, the Barred Owl, and the Kingfisher should all serve as reminders of the feathered fishermen sharing our local waterways this summer. As humans, it is our responsibility to respect the beauty and power of these birds and do all that we can to keep their habitat intact. Next time you are out enjoying a quiet moment on the boat or local pier with fishing rod in hand, keep in mind the fishers of the bird world that help make the aquatic ecosystem of northern Ohio such a unique and thrilling place to spend the summer months.

Katie Ferman is a Communications Intern at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center, honors student at The Ohio State University and a Bay Village resident.

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Volume 2, Issue 14, Posted 10:55 AM, 07.09.2010