Osprey (mis)adventures

It is definitely spring.  Peace River Wildlife Center is being inundated by birds suffering from DBS.  In all honesty, they don’t actually suffer from it as much as we do.  DBS is Dumb Baby Syndrome.  It is the equivalent of adolescent children getting into trouble by making poor life choices.

For instance, a girl-child might cut a turn short at the gas station and scrape the entire side of her car along the concrete pillar next to the gas pump.  Not naming any names, but…true story.  This is like when a fledgling bird prances around on the edge of her nest and falls out of the tree.  The paint job can be buffed out and the bird can usually be placed back in her nest or on a near-by branch.  No real harm done.

Sometimes the escapades are of a more serious nature.  PRWC got an osprey in recently that had fallen from his nest.  Unfortunately for this fledgling, his nest was atop a tall pole in the middle of a parking lot.  Luckily, he didn’t get hurt, but we were reluctant to put him back in that nest.  With no branches to slow another fall, he might not get so lucky if he were to fall a second time.

Reconnaissance of the nest area showed the parents still there taking care of another fledgling.  That fledgling was flying to and from the nest, perching on neighboring sailboat masts (every boat owners dream!)  The siblings usually start flying within a few days of each other, so we decided to keep “Geronimo” until he was able to fly well enough to avoid falling again.

Since the parents usually supplement the feeding of their offspring for a month or two in the vicinity of the nest, we were confident that we could return the fledgling osprey to his family in the week it would take him to become a stronger flyer.  The diet of ospreys is 99% live fish, unique for hawks in North America.  To facilitate catching and holding their prey, osprey have barbs on the pads of their feet and a reversible toe, resulting in two toes at the front and two at the back of the foot while grasping a fish.  While catching fish is instinctual for the young osprey, there is a learning curve.

To say our young osprey guest was less than thrilled with the accommodations we offered him is putting it mildly.  Every time we entered his area, he would throw himself on his back and stab at us with his considerable talons.  We even placed him in a habitat with an adult osprey that had been in rehab for a couple months and had become relatively calm around us.  Instead of the adult being a soothing influence on the juvenile, the opposite happened.  The adult started getting wacky again.

I believe the scientific term for ospreys’ histrionics is freakazoid.  That may or may not be an actual scientific term, but I believe it.  Daily checks on the ospreys to clean and feed, resulted in proof that both could finally fly.  After a day or two they discovered that a more effective home defense system than lying on their backs was to present talons aerially.  They were both showing off their ability to hover, which is a remarkably effective way to snag fish from shallow water and a good way to get kicked out of a rehabilitation facility.

Geronimo was taken back to his family and when he was finally wrestled out of the transportation kennel, he flew off high and strong.  Talking him into folding his wings to get out of the kennel door was a lengthy “conversation.”  But once he was out, he did not hesitate to take off.

His adult roommate was also released after a longer-than-intended stay at PRWC.  She was transferred from a wildlife rehab facility in Hampton Bays, NY this winter.  She had been in rehab there and when it was time to release her, it was too late in the migratory season.  Florida is one of the few places were ospreys live year-round.

The osprey was shipped to PRWC via Delta Dash for release here, but she proved not ready.  No persistent injuries were apparent, but she seemed unable to fly high or hover.  Maybe her babysitting duties were the kick in the pants she needed to encourage her to get back out in the real world.  Maybe she thought she would spend the rest of her life lazing around eating fish off of a silver platter and when she realized we were going to put her to work, she decided to get un-retired very quickly.  Sort of like when the adolescent grand-kids come to visit.  Is that why so many grandparents are working these days?  To avoid having to take care of those kids and their poor life choices?

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

osprey nest
osprey nest