It was Monday morning, the start of a new work week at Mike & Paul’s Auto Repair on Route 26 in Millville. Owners Mike and Kerry Blizzard were swamped with customers needing help with their cars. And they weren’t the only ones looking for help at the business.
Into the shop walked a snowy white great egret.
“I think he saw all the people in there and decided he could get help,” suggested Kerry Blizzard, who had spotted the egret in the neighboring parking lot of Lord Baltimore Elementary School before it walked into her repair bay.
The bird — far more docile and accepting of human contact than usual for the large herons, which are common in the area’s wetlands, including nearby White’s Creek — allowed itself to be picked up and corralled in a closet at the shop while the Blizzards set about looking for someone to help them help the bird.
They rang up Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, a non-profit regional facility based in Newark, Del., that specializes in bird rescue but is staffed primarily by volunteers who augment a small professional staff.
The news there wasn’t much better than it was in May of 2007, when a great blue heron that had been entangled near Millville died while concerned residents waited for someone to come rescue the creature. Tri-State didn’t have a volunteer available to come to the rescue then. They didn’t even have a volunteer in Sussex County at that time.
Now they have one trained volunteer. However, it just so happened that he was on vacation this week, again leaving an apparently ill bird with no one to help it.
There was some sunshine on the horizon, however. The Blizzards were told if they could get someone to drive the bird to Dover, Tri-State could arrange for it to get some help. But, being swamped with customers, the Blizzards couldn’t do it themselves. They called the Coastal Point to see if Publisher Susan Lyons had any ideas.
A few calls on the Coastal Point telephone tree later, Bethany Beach resident Julie Kypreos offered up stepson Tony — who already planned to drive north on Monday — as an ambulance driver for the egret. Julie Kypreos had previously aided an ailing vulture that was subsequently turned over to Tri-State for care and has even considered training as a volunteer.
Thus it happened that Tony Kypreos picked up “Paul” — the nickname given the bird by the Blizzards — from Mike & Paul’s Auto Repair on Monday morning, ready for more than an hour’s drive to a Tri-State rescue person in Dover.
Paul was carefully packed in a large cardboard box by Mike Blizzard, the couple’s children peeking inside for a last glimpse of their visitor, and safely tucked into the front seat of Tony Kypreos’ car for the journey.
Tony — and Paul — met up with Tri-State volunteer Cheryl Zimmerman in Dover mid-day on Monday, where Zimmerman left her full-time job to take charge of the bird.
Transported to Tri-State’s facility and checked out by their veterinarian, Paul’s prognosis was borderline as of Tuesday afternoon.
“The good news is that he’s still here,” said Zimmerman, reporting that the egret had been diagnosed with a broken wing and parasites.
“The vet put a pin in the wing in hopes we can get the bone healed,” she said, noting that egrets are very high-stress birds that don’t do well when kept in captivity for any length of time. “They’re very temperamental,” she said, adding that Paul had been kept comfortable and quiet with pain medications and was being treated for the parasites as well.
“We’ll keep him for about 14 days,” she said, “and we’ll see then how he’s healing and how he’s able to use the wing.”
If the wing does not heal, the prognosis for Paul is grave, according to Zimmerman. “It’s wait-and-see,” she said. “If it doesn’t heal, we’d have to euthanize him. It becomes painful for the bird, and there are few facilities that will take birds that have a permanent injury.”
Zimmerman said the egret’s behavior in walking into the Millville auto shop was “highly unusual, because they don’t venture away from water. They roost at night in the trees, but to come into a parking lot, it’s highly unlikely. They do not want to be near humans and human activity at all.”
That Paul did just that was a clear indication of just how much help the egret needed on Monday.
Volunteers still desperately needed
The need for the Kypreoses to come to Paul’s rescue this week again highlighted the need for trained volunteers to be more readily available in Sussex County. Aside from a handful of paid staff, Tri-State relies entirely on volunteers to assist with injured and sick birds, and for mass calls, such as in an oil spill.
“It comes and it goes,” Tri-State Volunteer Manager Julie Bartley said in 2007 of Tri-State’s volunteer availability. “Circumstances change,” she added, meaning that people who have been trained in the past often don’t remain available to help over the long haul.
That need has been particularly great in the southern part of the state, according to Zimmerman.
“Downstate, we’re desperate for transporters,” she said. “Currently, I think we have three people working in that area. They are volunteers, and gas is $4 per gallon,” she noted of the demands on those who volunteer with Tri-State.
“If we had more volunteers, that would be nice,” she added, pointing out that in her home town of Milford, she will sometimes put out brochures aimed at recruiting volunteers for Tri-State. The demands on transporters — as opposed to fully trained bird rescue volunteers — are comparatively small, she noted.
“People are thinking they have to drive to Dover, but if they can drive a bird to Milford or Churchtown, that would be such a tremendous help,” said Zimmerman. “We’re particularly short in the Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach area. That’s where all four of the birds I took in today came from.”
Yes, that’s right — four birds rescued in a single day in a small area of the coast. On that day in May of 2007, Tri-State received more than 70 calls for birds needing help across the state, challenging staff to even keep up with the phone calls.
That’s just one of the reasons the demand on volunteers can be more than many people are comfortable with, Zimmerman noted.
“We’re volunteers,” she emphasized. “Most of us have a real job during the day. It’s hard to say to your boss that you have to leave for four hours during the day.”
And that’s one reason Zimmerman said the area’s retirees make for excellent volunteers for transporting ailing birds.
“Retirees work real well with the transport,” she said. “There’s not a whole lot of training involved.”
Zimmerman said that if there were a couple volunteers in the area who could do transportation, Tri-State could even arrange a limited amount of training in the area to help them learn helpful techniques, such as how to safely pick up a bird of prey, since the public oftentimes waits for a bird rescuer to arrive rather than trying to capture and contain it themselves.
Tri-State encourages the public to act with caution when dealing with a sick or injured bird, particularly if a volunteer can’t come to help them right away.
“If they feel comfortable, they can catch the bird,” Bartley advised in 2007. “We’ll explain what to do over the phone, if we can’t find a volunteer.”
Bartley said the preferred technique in catching an injured bird is to approach the bird slowly, with a large sheet held behind the rescuer, where the bird can’t see it.
“Its instinct is to get away from you,” she said. “But if you use the sheet to cover its eyes and head, that enables you to stop it and keep it from trying to get away.”
Referencing the great blue heron that had been entangled in netting, Bartley reiterated cautions about trying to extract any material that a bird may have partially swallowed. “If it looks like it has swallowed a fishing hook, don’t pull it out,” she particularly cautioned.
Once the bird is captured, she said, “Put it in a box and then call us.” Tri-State can be reached for bird rescues at (302) 737-9543 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily.
For more information on volunteering with Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, call Volunteer Manager Julie Bartley at (302) 737-9543, ext. 102, e-mail her at email@example.com or visit the group’s Web site at www.tristatebird.org.