Little Heron chick: 3. Problems of release

posted in: Heron-Egret-Bittern, Rescue | 1

The Little Heron (Butorides striatus) chick rescued from the Bukit Timah campus is now more than a week under my care: see 1 and 2.

The wings are now well developed but it is still unable to fly. But it can easily run off if left unattended. Soon, it would be time to set it free. The one big question is how to do it.

Many birders are of the opinion that newly fledged birdlings need to be taught how to forage for food and herons are no exception. It had been hand-fed until now and whether it can fend for itself, hunting for fish and insects, is foremost in my mind.

It can be released at the Eco-Lake in the Singapore Botanical Gardens, around where it was found. Hopefully it may be able to observe other Little Herons hunting. Or it can be handed over to the Jurong BirdPark, where there may be more of its kind around.

The image below was taken on 6th November, four days after taking it home. Will we be releasing the chick to meet its death in the wild?


A number of people very kindly sent in their views/experience/advice in response to our earlier post and we reproduce them below:

Lin Yangchen has this to say: “Afraid I have no sure-fire recommendations but I think the problem is not so much when to release it as whether it will survive after release. The problem is that it has no parent to demonstrate what kind of food it should look for and how it should catch the food. Just based on these deductions, I think that the best thing to do might be to find a place where there are adults of this particular species and release it, hoping that it would be ‘adopted’ by one of the adult birds. Although we know that many species usually ignore young that are not their own, I think there are occasional incidents of adoption in animals whether birds or not. Otherwise, the next best options might be either to let the bird loose in an appropriate habitat and let nature take care of itself through natural selection, or keep the bird as long as possible and take the opportunity to study aspects of its biology and behaviour.”

Charlene Yeong, Conservation and Research Officer, Singapore Zoological Gardens wrote: “I saw your message on the BESG blog a few days ago; apologies for the late reply. How is the little heron doing? I’m not sure if you’ve already received much advice from others who have experience with raising birds, but here is a message from one of our curators.

“I don’t believe the vet department has raised a heron before, although we recently raised a stork. It was hand-reared on fish (as mentioned in Doug’s email below) in the ward, and eventually mixed with our other adult storks. It was full-grown by that time. I think it may have been better if he had been raised in an area with visual/auditory/olfactory access to other storks. Having said that, though, he seems to be doing well with the other storks. If you’d like to get more details, you can get in touch with our head vet, Dr Serena Oh, whom I am copying this email to.

“I hope all is well, and the heron is well and not causing too much trouble!”

Charlene appended the notes from Douglas M Richardson, the Zoo’s Curator (Zoology): “If the chick was very young when found and/or reared in the absence of other birds, which it seems it was, it is likely that it may not recognize other herons as members of its own species. If the bird is at least old enough to feed itself (it should at least have some experience of catching fish in a small pond or similar area) it should be released in an area that is frequented by other herons. The bird may readapt quite quickly, as the hand-reared stork from the lab that was mixed with the others in the new holding cage did. Of course there is a good chance that it may be predated upon by a python, monitor or crocodile, depending on the release site, but it is worth the gamble and carnivorous animals need to eat as well. Prior to being released, which is when it no longer has downy feathers, it should be rung above the “knee” and not around the “ankle” so that it may be identified later.”

We appreciate the above feedback that will come in useful when the heron chick is ready to be released into the wild.

Image by YC.

  1. wengchun

    hi! this is another interesting posting in the blog. I have also experience (partly) a rescue mission of a little heron chick. It was quite young and we had to feed it before sending it to the vet in a local university the next day. that was the intention. unfortunately, since it fell down from the nest (we expected the nest was built high up on a tree). no bleeding or wound is observed then.

    that was more than 1 year ago. read about it at

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