Little Heron chick: 2. Feeding


The Little Heron (Butorides striatus) chick, rescued on 2nd November 2007 has grown fast.

It outgrew the cardboard box and is fast outgrowing the larger metal container it was transferred to. I have to cover the top, least it climb out and scamper away. Previously, it just perched along the edge of the container and remained there, not daring to jump down (left).

On 7th November, five days after beinging it home, I got the chick to stand on a weighing scale that was placed about a metre from the ground. The scale showed 150 g whereas it was only 100 g when first rescued, four days before. I left the scene to fetch my camera. When I returned, it had jumped more than a metre down and wandered off the garden. Sneaking through the chain-linked fence, it nearly fell into the drain outside. I managed to catch it without falling into the drain myself and kept it restrained inside the metal container.

The bird was about 20 cm tall when fully stretched.

In the previous appeal for help, Victor Lee consulted Dr Gloria Chay, a vet who has experience in bird rehabiitation, and sent in the following: “Don’t bath birds at this stage as they can loose too much body heat. In fact, if the weather is cool, it may be necessary to use a heat lamp for them at night.

“…Gloria says that you need to supplement with Vitamin E as this is found in the live food they get in the wild. Unless you are able to get live fish for this chick. Otherwise, try using multi vitamins for birds that you can get at pet stores. If you are feeding this chick fish slices only, you will also need to give it calcium supplements once a week or so. If you are using whole fishes, like ikan kuning, etc., then this is not required.”


Originally fed with small pieces of fish fillet without bones (above), I have started feeding it with strips of ikan kuning or yellowstrip scad (Selaroides leptolepis), which is about 10 cm long. Each fish was cut into four longitudinal pieces, with the backbones and head removed. All fins were similarly removed initially but later left in place. When there was a lateral fin still attached, the bird gave out a soft cry when swallowing the piece. But it managed.

At each feeding, twice or three times a day, it took three to four pieces.

When it was bigger (nine days after bringing it home), I left the fish head on but still removed the backbones. The bird had difficulty swallowing pieces until it learnt to swallow it head first.

I am aware that herons can handle bones. It has an efficient digestive system, incapable of digesting only insects’ exoskeletons, birds’ feathers and mammals’ furs. These have to be regurgitated in the form of pellets.


The bird initially passed out only a white liquid, consisting of uric acid. This is the bird’s urine, a product of metabolism. When I started feeding it fish with bones, I found a small white piece of pellet at the bottom of the container. The next day there was another, slighter bigger pellet. Can these be regurgitated pellets, a consequence of eating the pieces of fish with side bones and fins? I did not witness the actual casting of these pellets but the fact that they were clean and dry, not mixed with uric acid, makes this a possibility.

Later, I found bigger lumps of brownish matters, clean of uric acid. Subsequent to this the white uric acid passed out began to include lumps of similar brown matters, probably products of the digestive system. No more clean, white pellets were than found.

The image above shows a collection of white, possibly regurgitated pellets and brown pieces that could be regurgitated (scale: mm).

The bird now weighs 200 g (11th November), double its initial weight. It has been transferred to a larger cage. It now exercises its wings, no doube preparing for the time when it can fly.

YC Wee, Dr Gloria Chay & Victor Lee
November 2007
(Images by YC Wee)

Martinez-Vilalta, A. & Motis, A. (1992). [‘Family Ardeidae (Herons)]. Pp. 376-429 in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. (eds.) Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 1. Ostrich to ducks. Barcelona: Lynx Editions.

6 Responses

  1. olyasozera

    Hello. Thank you for the information!
    I found heron chick same as on the your picture (I live in Penang). 3 days it was ok. But today looks start problem. Its stool looks like water and feeling uncomfortable. I heard such small chicks can not digest food themself and need add fermets to their food. Do you have some advice what to do? Where can buy this ferments? Thanks.

  2. Lee Chiu San

    I have successfully raised the chicks of Little Herons and Chestnut Bitterns on anchovies (ikan bilis) which you can buy fresh from the market. Initially, I would slice the fish lengthwise, but as the birds grow, I would feed the fish whole, bones, fins and all. If the chick is weak or afraid of you and not willing to gape to accept the food, it may be necessary to hold the beak open and gently place the pieces of fish down the throat. After a while, the bird will get the idea.

  3. olyasozera

    Thank you very much for your reply! Now it seems better. Probably problem wad only that time when I tried feed him with water. Now thedays the chick grow up. Can run well but still can’t fly.
    The chick become very friendly. Day time spending at the open terrace. Did your chicks able to live in nature after grow up at home?

  4. YC Wee

    Unable to monitor the heron after release. Most probably it would have been predated. Why? There was no adult to teach it to recognise and avoid potential predators! Most hand reared chicks would not survive for long in the wild.

  5. olyasozera

    Thank you very much for your help. Our heron is almost adult and changed color to be dark. From 2 weeks ago the bird goes outside grom our terrace in the morning. And usually comesback to eat lunch and stay night time (without any cage). Thank you for your advice which probably saved heron’s life.

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