Rescued herons and egrets must be fed whole fish to prepare them for life in the wild. Photo: Julie Wobig/Evelyn's Wildlife Refuge

Calling Va. Anglers: Minnows Needed for Rescued Herons, Egrets

There have been a variety of shortages since the pandemic began. What started with toilet paper moved to
lumber, then crabmeat, and now to minnows. And a minnow shortage is more serious than you might think.

This is the time of year that herons and egrets raise their families. Sometimes chicks become orphans, and end up in rehab. Trained and permitted volunteers raise these chicks and release them back into the wild when they are ready. The volunteers need natural food for these ravenous young birds. Live whole food is the best. “We have to keep their rehab as close to the wild as possible, to prepare them for being back in the wild,” said Meredith Broadhurst, President of Evelyn’s Wildlife Refuge in Suffolk, Virginia.

Rehab volunteers usually get minnows from the same people who supply bait shops. But the suppliers are running low. What is currently available is often frozen. “We just bought 10 cases of frozen minnows for $420, which will last perhaps a week,” said Broadhurst. Evelyn’s Wildlife Refuge and others have started asking for volunteers to catch and donate live minnows. If you are a veteran minnow trapper, set your trap and donate your catch.

Metal minnow traps allow even beginner anglers to catch food for orphaned chicks. Photo: Kendall Osborne

If you have never tried, but have access to water, you can also give it a shot. Galvanized metal minnow traps are available at tackle shops, some hardware stores, and the big box tackle companies. Placement is more important than bait. Put the trap in shallow water near structure, like a marsh edge or dock. Leave it overnight, and if a spot does not work, move and try another. Moving just a few feet can make a huge difference.

As for bait, you have lots of choices. Dog and cat food, especially fish-flavored, will work. Bread crumbs work but don’t last. Many people swear by Doritos and Cheetos. If you find a really good spot, you can catch minnows without bait. We normally catch two dozen a night without bait next to a floating dock.

Caring for these young birds, and preparing them for release back into the wild, is a lot of work. The volunteers who care for these birds have their hands full with cleaning, feeding, and exercising. They don’t have the time to catch minnows themselves. Donating a dinner of minnows is a big help and really makes a difference.

If you live in the southern Chesapeake Bay region, please consider lending a helping hand. If you call Meredith Broadhurst, she can refer you to a rehab volunteer in your area who needs minnows. If you don’t want to catch minnows, you can always donate money that can be used to purchase minnows (when available).

Evelyn’s Wildlife Refuge is a 501(c) non profit. You can get more information at evelynswildliferefuge.org or by calling 757 434-3439. If you find an orphaned shore bird or raptor, you can call Tidewater Wildlife Rescue at 757 255-8710.

Kendall Osborne