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Shot Blue Heron returns to Manteca orchards
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Stanislaus Wildlife Care Centers Veronica Sandow releases Harold the Blue Heron back into wild Friday afternoon within three miles of Raymus Village where he was found shot in the wing Dec. 7. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

Harold the Blue Heron scrambled out of an eagle’s travel cage Friday afternoon and took to the air over an almond orchard in bloom to the delight of his rescuers and the couple who found him over two months ago stranded in their roof after the bird had been shot.

He was found in the Raymus Village neighborhood near Lathrop Road and Highway 99 mon Dec. 7.

The injured bird was on the roof of Tracy and Scott Johnson’s home in the 14600 block of Pueblo Drive when they returned from dinner. The heron was standing on their roof squawking loudly but not moving from its perch.  Seeing he had been injured – and probably shot – they attempted to get him down but quickly decided to wait for the light of day the next morning and protect themselves from his sharp pointed beak

Several neighbors volunteered to help. They got the large bird into a cardboard box for transport to the Stanislaus Wildlife Care Center in Hughson where he would be the focus of caring staffers for over two months.  Early in the treatment there was fear that the bird might be beyond help and would never fly again into the fields around Manteca.

The Johnsons traveled to Hughson weekly to check on the heron. They also helped feed him in the care center.

Wildlife Care Center’s Donna Burt drove to Manteca on Friday with the bird in an eagle’s cage along with two of her staffers — Veronica Sandow and Aishah Hasan. They were on a mission to release the bird back into the farmland it would soon recognize as part of its former foraging area. 

Burt said the radius bone is located next to the damaged ulma with the radius acting like a splint. Since the bird stood quietly in the beginning it was felt it would heal itself.  However an infection raised great concern that antibiotics would not help the problem, being too hard to treat.  Time did make a difference and most of the infection cleared up.  The bullet had gone all the way through the wing, Burt said.

She explained it is not a bird that has to fly great distances and usually stays in a three-mile radius.  It spends much of its days in the fields looking for mice and small fish in the creeks.

 It is illegal to hunt Blue Herons.   

Harold turned out to be a picky eater. He wouldn’t touch the mice he was given, carefully picking through his feed bowl, throwing out the mice, and eating the shad.  At first he was kept in a large eagle cage during his confinement.  When he appeared to be healing, he was transferred to a larger cage on the campus where he ultimately proved he could fly straight up to a perch 16 feet off the ground – underscoring his ability to fly in the wild again.