The best part of working in wildlife rehab is always when you get to release an animal. It can take months of treatment before an injured animal is ready to return to the wild, and in many cases the animal doesn’t survive, or it is non-releasable due to the nature of its injury. These challenges make it all that much more rewarding when we are able to release one of our patients back into the wild.

Last week, we released two trumpeter swans at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The swans had been rehabilitating at our Brighton facility for around six weeks. One of them had evidently been injured by the animal—possibly a coyote—that killed its mate, and the other was the victim of stray shot from a dove hunter’s gun.

I was along for the retrieval of the swan that was shot, and I got to assist with its admission examination—definitely a multi-person endeavor when dealing with a bird the size of a trumpeter swan. My contributions included holding the swan while standing on a scale to find the bird’s weight (28 pounds, if I recall correctly) and cleaning the piece of lead shot we discovered embedded in the plush feathers of its neck. After that, I didn’t see the swan again until we released it last Wednesday, as it was placed in one of our Brighton facility’s outdoor rehab cages that we have yet to replicate at Dow.

On Wednesday, we brought a couple of Great Horned Owls, which had been recovering from what we suspect was West Nile Virus, to Brighton to build their strength back up in one of the flight cages, and while we were there we picked up the two swans for release. I should mention that it might be a bit misleading to say we “picked up” the swans—it wasn’t quite so easy as that! Ultimately it took four people to capture the two swans and get them into the crates in which we would be transporting them—even after one person manages to pick a swan up, a second person must manually fold the bird’s wings to keep it from pummeling its captor with them.

Despite one near escape when placing the swans in the crates and some incredibly strong winds, the release went perfectly smoothly. The two must have developed some bond while they were recovering together, because as soon as they were both out of their crates they began calling to each other, and they swam and flew together straight into the 55 mph gusts of wind all the way to the farthest corner of the pond, until all we could see was two white specks on the choppy water.