“The nesting Grey Herons (Ardea cinerea) in the heronry at Pasir Ris Park have been breeding without disruption for more than a year LINK. It can now be safely concluded that they breed throughout the year.
“In early September 2011, regular park visitors were surprised to see a young juvenile Grey Heron standing on the bridge at the mouth of Sungei Tampines. It was standing on the bituminous road surface of the bridge (above left). Though fairly familiar with the sight of herons in the heronry, regular park visitors were still amazed (above right). The bridge was heavily used, and the herons were never seen on the bridge before. It was the first time a wild heron was found standing on the bridge.
“It was a strange sight to see this juvenile standing there, indifferent and without a care to the humans, many of whom jogged or cycled past. It was not even ruffled or startled as it remained calm and composed despite its close proximity to people. These birds were always high in the trees in the herony. Hence, some visitors were thrilled to be able to see it from close – so close that they were within arm’s length. The juvenile was obviously unable to fly as it allowed itself to be gawked at by the curious onlookers.
“Why was this young heron not fleeing? We could only guess that it may have fledged very recently and was inexperienced. There were signs of juvenal downy feathers, mostly on its head (above left) and its back (above right), which were tell-tale sign of its immaturity. Hence, it was likely that this was a fledgling that had strayed from its nest. It may have fledged too soon and was thus not fully ready for flight. It was possibly too weak or may be sick, as some have speculated. Transparent fluid, likely to be its saliva, was at times seen dripping down from its beak. Could this be a sign of sickness? It can also be heat exhaustion due o direct exposure to the hot sun.
“A kind fisherman offered the juvenile some prawns. The heron had no problem picking up the prawns from the road surface. It manipulated the prawns in its beak before swallowing it whole (above). The fisherman revealed that this fledgling was stranded there for the past two days. That afternoon, I was back to check on the juvenile. In the hot afternoon sun, it was found hidden amongst the dense foliage that was on one side of the bridge. I was glad that it was able to seek shelter and take care of itself. The strayed juvenile was around the area for at least one week surviving on food brought by the regular visitors who came to know about its plight. Then, it was no longer seen.
“This episode of a strayed fledgling illustrated just how vulnerable a young and inexperienced juvenile can be. For this heronry, there were at least two other known cases of nestlings disappearing from their nests. It was speculated that they could have fallen from their nests as they were not sufficiently developed to have fledged. Nestlings that had fallen from their nests will most likely be unable to survive. For a nest that was directly above water, the nestling will most likely have drowned.
“This strayed fledgling will face great odds to be able to survive. It will have to learn the skills necessary for survival. Usually, such skills are learned from parents. Without parental guidance, this strayed fledgling will have to pick up survival skills on its own. Can this strayed fledgling survive? We were hopeful as it had survived for more than a week. For now, nobody knows where it has gone. The regular visitors who brought it food will certainly hope that it can survive.”
Kwong Wai Chong
25th September 2011