TORONTO -- Most migrating birds have headed south by mid-November, which is why two good friends were concerned when they saw a great blue heron in distress.

Allison Prentice and Guy Kinney were taking wildlife photographs in Airdrie, Alta. when they noticed the large, blue bird. The heron’s feathers were packed with snow and ice.

“It looked like it tried to jump up and fly but couldn't,” Kinney told CTV News Calgary. “I could see something as it's turned on its breast and it turned out to be a great big ice cube.”

The great blue heron is the largest of its species in North America, and they’re quite common to spot in Canada during the summer.

But as the rivers and lakes freeze over, these birds typically migrate south for the winter. Spotting a great blue heron this late in the year is very rare.

“I doubt (she) would have made it, this particular one. I rescued a few others, this by far was the most injured,” Prentice said.

Both Prentice and Kinney agreed that they had to capture the bird in order for it to survive. Prentice said it was “really surprising” that the injured bird didn’t attempt to fly away from them.

The couple took the injured bird to a Madden, Alta., conservation centre and were told they’d nabbed the bird in the nick of time. According to staff, the female bird was suffering from severe hypothermia.

If she hadn’t been brought in, “she likely would have died,” Erin Caspar, manager of the Alberta Institute For Wildlife Conservation Rehabilitation, told CTV News Calgary.

The bird spent a week recovering at the centre and spent time in an incubator. Once forecast temperatures were mild enough, the decision was made to release her in Calgary.

The nature photographers were there for the send-off.

“I would be fibbing if I said that didn't bring a couple of tears to watch [her] glide [away],” Prentice admitted.

She beamed at the thought that the great blue heron had sunny skies the day she began her journey south.