Nestled away in Newfoundland and Labrador, residents of Canada’s most easterly province get an intimate look at mother nature. Many who live here feel a certain kinship with the native creatures.
Antje Springmann and Dennis Minty are no exception. The couple is accustomed to seeing all kinds of wildlife near their home along the banks of the Great Conception River—but this was one they’d never seen so close up before.
A large black bird was huddled under a bush in their garden. At first, they thought it was one of their chickens, but it turned out to be something much more unusual.
Antje Springmann and Dennis Minty found a Great Cormorant in apparent distress.
Minty, who is a wildlife biologist and accustomed to handling animals, thought it was unusual to see the seabird this far from the coastline it typically inhabits. Huddled under a honeysuckle bush, it appeared to be in great distress.
“It was in a place that is not normal, the behavior of that bird wasn’t normal and I knew it was in trouble,” Springmann told CBC News.
Beautiful as the bird may be, that doesn’t detract from how dangerous it can be. Great Cormorants are about the size of a goose. Before trying to investigate, she wanted to make sure she was protected from the animal in case it lashed out in an attempt to protect itself.
“It has a very long neck and about a three-foot wingspan and a very long five-inch bill with a pretty sharp hook on the end, so I called out to Dennis to go and get me some welder’s gloves,” said Springman.
The couple couldn’t see any visible injuries present on the bird, but it was underweight.
The bird snapped and hissed as it was looked over by the animal lovers. With no obvious signs of injury or abuse, they thought it might just be cold and in need of a good meal.
“We figured a bit of food and some quiet and warmth for the night was the ticket,” Minty told CBC.
Cormorants are fish-eating birds, so the couple thawed out a tilapia filet they had in their freezer and cut it into bite-sized pieces. The bird initially refused to eat, and the couple had to coax it to swallow the fish.
“I had to pry the jaws open and poke it down, but once it’s in the gullet they will swallow it, so we gave him a good feed that night,” Minty said.
“Put him in an animal carrier and put him in a warm place in our front porch and covered him with a blanket and left him for the night.”
The couple had their doubts whether the bird would survive the night, but in the morning, it was in a much better mood.
No longer lethargic, the bird snapped and hissed more than ever whenever the couple approached. The fish and warm blanket might not have made it less ornery, but it certainly helped inject some liveliness into its spirit.
They gave the bird one more meal before sending it on its way. To their delight, the it was able to take flight and was gone within a blink of an eye.
The couple has been known to help animals in the area in the past, but warn others not to do the same. Because of Minty’s expertise, he’s able to gauge when it’s safe to intervene, and when it’s best to stay away.
“They can be quite dangerous to people, so even if they are ill they’ll lash out, they’ll try to defend themselves, they don’t know that people are trying to provide aid,” Minty said.
“The general rule of thumb, unless you know what you’re doing, is leave them alone.”