The Bittern Metaphor

I usually use this space to post images and tell you stories about how they were made.  But today I provide the story and someone else will provide the images.  Hang on, as a little ornithology lesson is coming your way!

Last Monday I was heading back home on my morning walk with the dogs when my English Pointer started down an alley.  I sighed and decided to follow her because I was feeling sorry for her sore shoulder and thought she’d like a little more ‘hunt time.’  The alley was devoid of any sun and a north wind let me know that November had finally arrived.  I heard a screech sound behind me and when I looked over my shoulder, my coonhound came walking back towards me after going nose to nose with a large bird.  (My dogs are on leash but they have different walking styles – one, hunting out front and one sniffing up the rear.)

What I thought was initially a hawk, turned out to be an American Bittern when I got closer.  Injured?  Hypothermic on a cold morning in a sunless alley?  We hightailed it home and called the WI Wildlife Rehabilitation center that’s within the WI Humane Society.  I’ll spare your the story but I was able to get the bird to the rehab center and today found out it’s status.  It has a fractured keel and some lacerations so it will be in the WI Wildlife Rehab center for a little longer.

Keel in blue

You can see that it’s an important part of the bird (in blue) as flying muscles insert to it.  No wonder he was down in that East Side alley.

As I was rescuing the bird I became aware of how my care for the bird is like the care I am now receiving for the lymphoma that I was diagnosed with on the same day.  It is the same tenderness and concern that I showed to the Bittern that is coming back to me now through family, clients, friends and health care workers.   Animals have always been my teachers and thankfully I’ve always paid attention to them.  There was the deer that ran into the door of my truck and popped it open so I couldn’t close it.  It stomped it’s front feet, snorted and ran off behind the truck.  That came after hitting 3 birds that kamikazied into the front of my truck in 2 weeks.  I’ll spare you the lesson learned but it was a big one.

So while “Muppet” is healing in the rehab center, I’ll be doing the same.  Not sure how much ‘flying’ I’ll be doing in December, but if a rescued American Bittern is a teacher for me, then I’ll also remember how he struggled to get out of the taped-up box on the drive to the rehab center.  They tell me he’s feisty, fierce, and doesn’t like the camera.   Well, feisty I can deal with, and some time to heal a ‘keel’ is OK too.

Here’s how you can keep up with the news about “Muppet” and donate food and money, as they are a non-profit center helping those that can’t help themselves:

Hello Peggy,

Thank you for contacting us regarding the American Bittern admitted to the Wisconsin Humane Society Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.  According to our computer records, this animal is still here receiving treatment for a fractured keel and wing laceration.  (He is actually on our website at the moment.  Check him out at  Please excuse the picture quality – he is a fierce patient, and not a fan of the camera lens!)  Rehabilitation can require several weeks, even months, before an animal is ready for release.  Thank you for your support.

This year, the WHS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center will admit over 5,000 animals, representing nearly 150 species.  Each wild animal that receives treatment at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center requires specialized care and a diet specifically designed for their species. The Wisconsin Humane Society does NOT receive tax dollars and we rely entirely on donations from people like you! Your financial gift will go a long way toward saving wild animals in Milwaukee County.

Here are some examples of what your money can do:

  • · $10 will provide one day of food for orphaned wild birds in our Nursery.
  • · $25 will purchase food, medications and veterinary care for an injured Northern Cardinal in our Animal Care Center.
  • · $50 will purchase one week of food and medication for an injured hawk or owl.
  • · $100 will provide the materials and medications necessary for us to perform surgery to repair a broken wing on an injured Great Blue Heron.

We also need items to help us care for the wild animals in our care. Our most urgent needs right now are fresh or frozen berries, fresh fruits and vegetables, and raw, unsalted nuts such as acorns. Even items such as paper plates and bleach help us reduce our costs and enable us to save more animals. To see our complete wish lists, go to

Thank you for your compassion and support! Together we can build a community where people value animals and treat them with respect and kindness.


WHS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center Staff

P.S. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is in constant need of compassionate volunteers to help us take care of our wildlife. If you are interested in volunteering, you can fill out an application on our website or call our Volunteer Coordinator at (414) 431-6103. It is a unique and inspiring volunteering experience!


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