Grace was released a couple of days ago near the first street rapids, at a home she regularly visited prior to her injury. She seems to be doing ok, though I did not think this was the best solution for her. In the end though, since I do not full say in her rehabilitation - the State of Oregon does - I gave my best recommendations and this was the choice made.
Grace spent 14 days in rehabilitation, which is actually way too long. Most facilities that rehab these birds like to treat them and immediately or nearly immediately release. Foot injuries, lung infections, and loss of waterproofing can result from too long in captivity. Grace was showing both foot problems and the beginnings of waterproofing issues (you can see her neck feathers looking pretty raged in this picture). However, it was the opinion of the vet, Dr. Cooney, that she stay up to 3 weeks in rehab due to the extent of her injuries.
However, when her feet developed sores, Simon Wray of ODFW chose to release her and see if she couldn't finish up her rehab on her own. I had suggested she go to another facility that has fully fenced ponds and was in a warmer part of the NW.
What Grace needed most - and needs now - is to be off her feet and get her plumage back into shape. Swans - and many other water birds, like grebes and loons - are not designed to spend many hours on their feet. The joints of the toes tend to swell after not too long in rehab, and then once even mildly swollen they develop basically bed sores...initially minor abrasions.
To avoid this - if you are going to keep a swan for longer than a week - you have to swim them. To do this a large stock tank is necessary, one large enough for them to extend their wings so that when they bath, they can then flap their wings while in the pool. Watch a swan bath and flap and you will see these big birds needs space! With a smaller stock pond you risk the bird hitting the sides with their primaries, and then you have other issues.
Sadly, while Grace had a 16x20 foot aviary, my stock tanks are meant for grebes and were too small. For me to get a large stock tank into my aviary, I would have had to dismantle one side of it...an 8 ft round object was not going to fit through the vestibule. The other option was to buy a very large dog pen to surround the tank with, a very expensive choice. Had Simon not chosen the release I would have considered this.
However, we are right now at $600 of out of pocket expenses. To set up my songbird aviary for a swan, I had to buy about $300 worth of anti-fatigue matting and astroturf to cover my usually sand substrate. For her bathing pool, I specially ordered a large kiddie pool and got a sump pump to drain it. The pool was drained and cleaned 2 times a day. Grace also got a under body heater large enough for her - they use these for large dogs. And then she ate very good food - Mazuri Waterfowl Maintenance.
Hay cannot be used for waterfowl due to it harboring aspergillosis and other fungal type spores. So I use blankets...however, with any towels or blankets you are risking contamination with soap. It is near impossible to get soap fully out of a towel (wash one, then put it in a tub and you will be shocked at how much soap floats out!). When I work with water birds, all towels are washed with little soap and rinsed 3 times. Blankets are just hosed down. Once the bird is gone then I sterilize with Ammonia (the only thing that kills the parasite eggs some of these birds have).
Grace is not being hassled much by the other swans, other than to have her food eaten by them (making feeding her more expensive for me unfortunately). She is not wanting to be in the water too much, which indicates she may be cold - a waterproofing issue. However, her plumage looks remarkably better just after 2 days. (Birds preen way less in rehab, so they start looking bedraggled). But Grace is looking good except for her neck.
So, I am not sure what is next. Grace seems to be sitting a lot to me. But there are a couple of volunteers who are trying to keep tabs on her. If you want to visit her, just go to the small dock just off of Division St near the rapids, look up toward the right and you will likely see her sitting in someone's yard.
Author: Elise Wolf
I have been fascinated by wild birds my whole life. The current stresses on our wild bird populations is extraordinary, and helping them is not only an act of kindness and compassion, but demonstrates that humans do have the ability to be selfless and act with love towards their non-human planetary family.