Grey Heron with chick under its wing or is it a tumour?

Khng Eu Meng photographed a Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) with what looked like a chick under its wing on the morning of 31st August 2012 (above).

“…while strolling along the track in the Lorong Halus Wetland, I passed by the usual suspects of Grey Herons, which always park themselves on the buoys in the Serangoon Reservoir. But I noticed that one of them was standing closer to the bank, which wasn’t a usual thing to do. So I decided to take some photos of it as it was within my lens’ range,” wrote Eu Meng.

“Through the camera view finder I noted a pinkish blob under the bird’s neck and slightly to the left of its chest. I thought it had suffered a flesh injury from a fight with another heron. It frequently bent its head to stroke the pink flesh.

“Upon blowing up the picture on my notebook, I saw that there was a tiny beak poking out from where the pinkish flesh was. I was blown off my seat as it was a very young almost featherless chick that was tucked under the parent’s wing.

“Is this method of caring for its young usual for Grey Herons? I always saw the nestlings in their tree-top twigs nests in the Pasir Ris Park, so this was surprise. Interestingly, when the adult flew off, the chick didn’t fall out. How was this possible?”

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS and wife Datin Dr Swee-Im Lim, both medical doctors, are of the opinion that it may be a diseased bird with a tumour growth that looks like a chick.

The image was enlarged and Eu Meng is convinced that the chick, with a distinct head and bill, is in a pouch (left). The right eye is also distinct. With this enlarged image, Amar and Swee-Im had another look and both think that “it is most likely a tumour growth that looks like a chick.”

Daisy O’Neill is of the opinion that “a growth/tumour as opinionated by Dr Amar and Dr Lim cannot be excluded. The dimpled look on a smooth surface alike tumours I have seen in real life. ( I managed surgical units and did daily rounds with surgical consultants in teaching and Military based hospitals before. Dealing with humans not avians though). One of the shaft feathers that appeared to get pushed aside by this supposedly growth could be mistaken to look like a chick’s beak. The swollen, exposed skin area that is devoid of feathers could also be the muscular enlargement of the alimentary canal of bird -gizzard area where the bird may have swallowed prey undigested. I don’t know why those feathers have gone missing. I do know that distressed birds in cages do pluck their own feathers but this is not the case.”

Eu Meng is currently investigating the matter further.

Note: This account was first posted in Khng Eu Meng’s blog LINK. We thank Seow Boon Eu for providing us with the link and Eu Meng for permission to use his materials.

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