You can't save them all. But sometimes, you get to save one of them.
That's the lesson Cudjoe Key resident Kitty Somerville took away from her recent experience with Droopy, a great white heron who stops by her backyard fountain from time to time.
"He flew just fine but had a droopy right wing that was probably injured at one time," Somerville said. "He would drink from the water fountain on his visits to my home, which is located near the Great White Heron Preserve."
On Sept. 16, the bird's idyllic existence came to an abrupt halt. Somerville noticed that Droopy seemed disoriented, and was lying down amongst the bushes. He tried to run, but fell down. Droopy was badly dehydrated, and slowly starving to death.
Fortunately for the heron, wildlife advocates Maja Totman and her husband Paul were on the case. Paul Totman rushed to the scene and put Droopy into a box, so he could be transferred to the Wild Bird Rescue of Big Pine Key.
"It was incredible how easily Paul handled him," Somerville said. "He just folded this big bird right into this box and took him away."
Once at the rescue center, Maja Totman put Droopy on a diet of intravenous fluids for the first 24 hours. This was followed by subcutaneous fluids, and oral feedings every three hours. The heron was also given a botulism vaccine.
"I thought the bird was going to die, he was in such bad shape," Maja Totman said Wednesday afternoon. "He was also anemic, so I gave him iron and blended it with chicken liver, and herbal multi-vitamins. As he started to recover, we mixed royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis, electrolytes and filleted fish into a 'fish soup.'"
For three weeks, Droopy lay paralyzed in his cage. Attendants cleaned his eyes frequently with a saline solution, and administered antibiotics, but he was still very ill.
"I went to visit him just to see how he was doing," Somerville said. "I had no idea how sick he really was. They have a lot of birds in there, but I was really impressed with the care they gave him."
Slowly but surely, Droopy began to recover. About a month after being brought to the center, he started to play in the water in his cage and walk. Members of the Key West Garden Club even pitched in with donated money, towels and sheets.
"When Kitty came back here to check on him, she couldn't believe he was still alive," Maja Totman said. "I thought he wouldn't make it, but he somehow pulled through. It just took him a long time to recover."
On Monday, after more than four months of rehabilitative therapy, the Totmans brought Droopy back to the edge of Somerville's property, close to the Heron Preserve.
"We opened the cage door and he sort of poked his head out," Somerville said. "You could tell he was nervous. But then he just bolted out of the cage and took off, flying over the palm trees. It was amazing to see how strong and anxious to fly he was."
The very next day, Droopy was back, drinking out of the fountain, with all the other birds that stop by.
It was a heartwarming moment for Somerville, who's been an enthusiastic bird watcher since she was 18.
"They're such magnificent birds," she said. "Really beautiful. My husband and I love where we live. Sometimes we see ospreys carrying fish, and all kinds of other birds. It's just wonderful."