Sitka locals came to the rescue of a hiker in trouble this weekend. But it wasn’t your typical trail-side encounter: they crossed paths with a trumpeter swan stranded far from home.
“That’s a really weird place for a swan to be,” Jen Cedarleaf, the Avian Director at the Alaska Raptor Center told KCAW. “The first call I got said something about how it was walking right along with their dog. Clearly something is going on there, it’s not acting normal.”
She’s been caring for the bird since it arrived at the Alaska Raptor Center late on Saturday night. When the swan arrived, it wasn’t in such great shape. An x-ray showed she didn’t have any broken bones, but huge lice covered the already underweight bird. To make matters worse, the swan is blind in its right eye.
“I think she’d be pretty easy prey, ” Cedarleaf said.
Currently, it’s recovering in the intensive care unit. The swan has the room to itself. It sits in the corner on pillows and blankets. Slowly, she’s gaining strength. But it’s hard to get swans to eat enough in captivity.
To make sure she’s getting sufficient food, Cedarleaf and her colleagues have to feed the bird three times a day through a tube. First, they grind her meal in a blender. Then they add antibiotics and de-worming medicine. Cedarleaf’s colleagues Kara DeShazo and Hannah Blanke weigh the bird before feeding it. They place what looks like a plastic laundry tub on a scale and try to keep the bird calm.
Then the feeding begins. Blanke sits on a low stool, positions the bird between her legs, and holds back its feet. DeShazo holds the swan’s neck. Cedarleaf inserts the feeding tube and quickly delivers the food. “This tube is so long!” she said.
The whole process takes just about a minute, then they return the swan to the ICU where it will rest before Cedarleaf return at lunchtime and dinnertime to feed it again.
“I can’t imagine getting a tube shoved down my throat three times a day, that would be any kind of pleasant,” she said. “We’re just right now trying to put weight on her and get her healthy again and then we’re not really sure what’s going to happen.”
Cedarleaf hasn’t decided whether they’ll release the swan into the wild or not. For now, the swan will spend the week fattening up at the Alaska Raptor Center. “We’ll see how it goes,” she said. “First she has to survive this, then we’ll see what happens.”