UPDATE: The great blue heron was captured April 3 and was immediately taken to the Atlanta Wildlife Animal Rescue Effort facility in Lithonia, said Lissie Stahlman of Brookhaven. The bird, whose beak has been tied shut for several days, was very weak and collapsed in a marsh area at Murphey Candler Park, she said. The overall condition of the bird is not yet known.
Original story below:
An avid bird-watcher at Brookhaven’s Murphey Candler Park is hoping to save a great blue heron whose beak is tied shut with cast-off fishing line and a hook, leaving it unable to eat and drink.
Stephen Ramsden, an amateur photographer for the Atlanta Audobon Society, is seeking about 10 volunteers to meet at the Murphey Candler Park main dock’s parking lot at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, April 3. The park is located at 1551 West Nancy Creek Drive. Volunteers are needed to try to capture the bird to free it from the fishing line and hook.
“It just sucks,” Ramsden said. “If it was natural, it would be one thing. But knowing our intrusion into their habitat caused this problem is disheartening.”
Ramsden also volunteers with Atlanta Wildlife Animal Rescue Effort (AWARE) and said he has experience capturing wild birds whose beaks have been tied up by fishing line or caught in discarded water bottles or other trash.
“We have more birds killed in the springtime,” he said. “The number one cause is dogs running loose. The number two cause is garbage.”
A group of about 10 people is needed to surround the bird to keep it from trying to fly away, Ramsden said. Once the bird is surrounded, Ramsden said he and others can cover it in a towel to keep it still. The next steps are to hold the bird and beak and then cut off the fishing line and try to remove the hook. Those interested are asked to wear muted colors, boots that can be worn in deep mud and to bring a large towel or sheet as well as gloves and eye goggles.
Great blue herons can seriously hurt or even kill a person with their strong beaks used to stab and kill large fish to eat, Ramsden said.
The bird is noticeably weak, though, and will have to be taken to AWARE in Lithonia for rehabilitation before being released back into the wild, he added. It is illegal to capture a great blue heron without a permit, according to the federal Migratory Bird Act. Ramsden said he is volunteering on behalf of AWARE, which has a permit to rehabilitate.
Time is of the essence as well, he said. The bird has not been able to eat or drink for several days already and great blue herons typically cannot survive more than a week without food or water, he said.
“It’s been weakening every day and it’s lost about half its body weight. Its eyes are sunken,” Ramsden said. “And of course, it’s terrified.”
Ramsden is a regular visitor to the 135-acre Murphey Candler Park, where unusual fowl often migrate in the spring, he said. On March 28, he was taking pictures of birds when he noticed the heron sitting in a tree with what appeared to be a fish in its long, pointed beak. So he zoomed his camera in for what he thought would be a great photo.
The “fish” was actually a fishing lure and its hooks were embedded into the bottom of the beak. More than a dozen feet of fishing line are wrapped around the beak as well, Ramsden said.
“I’ve seen this before, unfortunately,” he said.
He and a friend tried for about one hour on that day to capture the bird, but it kept flying away when they got close, he said. Ramsden said he’s been back every day since, but the bird remains strong enough to fly far enough away to elude capture.
When those who fish at Murphey Candler Park’s lake cut their fishing line or leave their fishing line lying on the bank and don’t pick up their lures, they eventually make their way into the lake, Ramsden said. The sharp lures that look like small fish become prime targets for hungry birds and can result in what has happened to this heron, Ramsden said.
“Pretty much every year, a great blue heron gets tangled up and dies,” he said. “It’s a common bird, but people don’t think twice until they notice its absence.
“A little bit of care can go a long way if people throw their trash away,” he said. “The slightest bit of caring to do something can keep birds from being killed every year.”
Lissie Stahlman of Brookhaven hopes city officials can put regulations on what type of lures are used at the lake. The one caught in this great blue heron’s beak appears to have several hooks, she said.
“This is just tragic,” she said. “We’ve been observing and he’s just moping around. And it’s human-caused, just like most everything else affecting our environment.”
The Murphey Candler Park Conservancy is hosting three sites for the annual Sweep the Hooch event on Saturday, April 6, to clean up the lake area as part of effort to remove trash from Chattahoochee River watershed. For more information, click here.