(Photos: 1 and 2-- Oliver before rescue. Fishing line twisted around and imbedded into leg. Oliver unable to put foot down or walk. 3 and 4 -- Leg after fishing line removed. Swollen, indented, close to breaking point. Oliver now being treated and recovering at Wild Bird Fund.)
Oliver Twist is either a very lucky -- or blessed duck. But, more about him later.....
Once again, I could not know what to expect when returning to Harlem Mere last night.
A second storm had blown into New York City on Wednesday and Central Park was closed for two days.
I was of course worried for Wiggly and Honker (the domestic ducks), as well as Little Brad (still recovering from a leg injury) and most of all, Oliver, the compromised drake who was crippled from imbedded fishing line wrapped tightly around his left leg.
But, I did not go alone to Harlem Mere last night.
After sharing Oliver's plight with Lianna, (the kindly senior citizen who monitors the birds at the Boat Lake), she insisted on helping me to rescue Oliver in order to free the fishing line from his leg.
"But, Lianna, I am not sure that Oliver will even be there tonight!" I told her. "With the park closed for two days, the normal routine is disrupted. Things could be a bit chaotic as there are many ducks, geese and other birds at the Mere right now. Perhaps it is better for me to go and determine the situation first before we plan anything."
"Nonsense!" Lianna answered in her heavy Romanian accent. "I go with you. Even if we not get the duck, it is good for me to know the area. I don't like to think of the duck suffering. I will say a prayer for help to Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals and I will light a candle."
Who was I to argue with a saint?
Lianna and I met at the 97th Street entrance to Central Park last night. As usual, I had my two dogs with me, some bird food and a small pair of scissors in the unlikely event we were able to capture Oliver. Lianna brought with her a Sherpa bag (cat carrier), a small blanket and some food. Lianna and I then walked to Harlem Mere together.
When arriving to the Mere, a number of ducks were already gathered along the embankment. I could immediately see Wiggly, Honker and Little Brad who came quickly scampering towards us. Thank goodness they were safe, I thought.
"Ah, look at that!" Lianna exclaimed. "They are following you!"
"Yes, well they missed their treats for two days," I laughed. "Greedy little buggers."
Shortly after securing my dogs to a park bench, I turned around and quickly noted Oliver pitifully pulling himself on the embankment and immediately flopping down on the grass.
"Oh, there he is!" I said, pointing out Oliver to Lianna.
"Oh, poor bird." Lianna replied. "Look, the other ducks are attacking him. Shoo! Shoo!"
Within seconds, the grass was crowded with a swarm of mallards and even some geese.
I lost sight of Oliver.
"Oh dear. I don't see Oliver now. Did he fly back to the water?" I asked Lianna.
"No! Look. He is right in front of you!"
Looking down, I was shocked to see Oliver sitting directly at my feet and looking up at me.
I squatted down offering food from my hand and tossing it in front of him, while at the same time, trying to keep the greedy Wiggly and other ducks away. Fighting for the food, Oliver was busy grabbing what he could while also, in feisty fashion, pecking at the other ducks.
"This is good!" Lianna said. "You keep him distracted and I will sneak up behind and try to grab him."
To my utter shock, Lianna had Oliver wrapped inside a small blanket and held securely in her arms within seconds.
Both of us then moved swiftly under a lamp light. I pulled out the small scissors from my bag and immediately began to cut into the fishing line imbedded into and around Oliver's leg.
But, it wasn't an easy job as I literally had to cut into the leg itself in order to remove all of the fishing line.
Oliver's twisted leg began to bleed profusely.
Although the original plan was to cut the line and release Oliver back to the water (or grass), I began to have second thoughts when noting the severity of the injury and damaged leg limply dangling.
"He is still not going to be able to walk or put any weight on this leg, " I said with concern to Lianna. "It could also get infected now from having to cut into it."
"Then I take him home and bring him to Wild Bird Fund tomorrow morning!" Lianna answered with confidence.
Both of us then worked gently to put Oliver safely into the Sherpa bag Lianna had brought.
Once securely in the bag, Lianna and I then tossed remaining cracked corn and sunflower seeds to the scores of apparently newly arrived migratory and resident ducks and geese.
Harlem Mere has greatly "come alive" over the past couple of weeks with arrivals of wood ducks, cormorants and even a swan.
Had "Hector" the swan suddenly returned to Harlem Mere after being chased out two years ago by "Geese Relief" I wondered?
I could not be sure last night if the newly arrived swan was the same one from 2010. But, there were too many other things going on to stop and try to figure out.
Finally leaving Harlem Mere, Lianna again remarked at the number of ducks following us.
"Oh yes! And notice Little Brad limping in the very front, as he always leads the departing parade." I answered. "That is simply their good night ritual."
Lianna seemed utterly fascinated by that.
Once on Fifth Avenue, I insisted on Lianna taking a cab home to her West 70's apartment.
The only way she agreed is when I told her it would be less stressful to Oliver. Lianna was perfectly content to walk almost two miles home with a wild, frightened duck in her bag.
I was extremely fortunate that Lianna (unlike me) has no other pets at home and was willing to put an injured duck up for the night.
This morning, I left a message for Rita McMahon of the Wild Bird Fund that Lianna would be bringing in an injured mallard. Although I offered to help Lianna get Oliver to the bird hospital, she declined the offer saying it was "no problem" for her.
Very few things are "problems" for Lianna. She apparently has God and the saints on her side. Faith seems to bring with it, almost superhuman strength and resilience.
Following her dropping off Oliver at the animal hospital, Lianna called me to give an updated report:
Oliver is safely at the bird hospital now and is being treated.
Rita (chief vet and rehabber) says the circulation in Oliver's leg was cut off and the leg was close to breaking.
Damage to and fragility of bone means that Oliver will be treated with rest, calcium and antibiotics.
It seems we got Oliver just in time before his leg actually broke.
Prognosis is guarded, but somewhat optimistic. Hopefully, with some time and healing, Oliver will be able to walk again.
I am very happy that with Lianna's help (and Saint Francis?) we were able to get Oliver last night. I never thought it would happen, but it was as if Oliver somehow "knew" we were there to help him and almost literally flopped into our arms.
Never underestimate the power of faith and the birds sometimes being smart enough to ask for help.
Thank you, Lianna. Thank you Wild Bird Fund. And thank you, Saint Francis. -- PCA
Important Note: The Wild Bird Fund works entirely on donations. Without this fine veterinary facility available for injured and sick wild birds, the "Oliver's" of New York City could not be helped. Please be generous in supporting this vital, non-profit organization:
Wild Bird Fund