A Heroic Osprey Rescue

Osprey

Guest post by Suzanne Shoemaker, Founder and President of Owl Moon Raptor Center, an EarthShare Mid-Atlantic member charity

The Warner family was excited, but a little concerned, when their osprey pair returned at the end of March to nest on a utility pole on their property in Pasadena, MD. For years, they had enjoyed watching this pair construct a nest, hatch two or three chicks, and then catch fish and return to the nest with them and feed their growing offspring.

This year was a little different because the utility pole had been replaced, and the power company had not yet returned to reinstall the nesting platform. The osprey pair was not deterred, however, and went ahead with nest construction on the pole just above the wires and transformer. Their brood of three chicks was nearly fledged, flapping their wings and beginning to take short flights from the nest.

Then, on the night of June 23rd, Shari and her husband John awoke after midnight to the frantic alarm calls of the adult osprey. They looked out their window and discovered the osprey nest was ablaze! Flames were coming off the nest and burning sticks were falling to the ground.

The Warners dialed 911 and then immediately began rescue efforts while they waited for the fire trucks to arrive. The adults were flying overhead, and two of the chicks jumped from the nest shortly after the fire erupted. Shari and John, and their neighbors Mark and Stacey Warner, who had also awoken to the ruckus, kept the grounded chicks wet with the garden hose, while also trying to knock the third chick off the nest with the spray. After what seemed like an eternity (but was in fact only minutes), Anne Arundel County Fire Department arrived, followed shortly by BGE personnel, and the fire was extinguished.

Anne Arundel Animal Control Officers were called in to rescue the chicks. The chick that remained on the nest was retrieved, and all were taken to Anne Arundel Animal Emergency Clinic in Annapolis where they were admitted at 4 am. Dr. Mary Rawlings examined the chicks and provided emergency care.

The next day, Anne Arundel Animal Control Officer Christina Williford called Owl Moon, and we met to transfer the three chicks to our rescue and rehabilitation center. We learned that all three chicks were suffering from smoke inhalation, but the chick that had not jumped was in the worst condition, his breathing loud and raspy as he struggled to get air. The feathers of both wings were burned so badly that, if he survived his severe respiratory condition, he would require long term care until the feathers would molt and regrow, a full year or more. He would miss his fall migration to South America, where juvenile osprey normally spend their first full year, before returning the following spring for their first breeding season at age two.

We determined that this bird’s prognosis for survival and a normal, healthy life was too poor to prolong his suffering. We made the difficult decision to euthanize. The two chicks that jumped were in far better shape. Their respiratory condition was surmountable with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and antibiotics, their feathers were only lightly singed, and one had minor, treatable burns on its feet and legs. Both were dehydrated from their ordeal and required fluid therapy, which we began immediately, along with NSAIDs. We cleaned, dressed and bandaged the burns.

At the same time, we made contact with Shari Warner, who helped us to reach out to BGE, their power company to determine the feasibility of returning the osprey chicks to the care of their parents. All were onboard, and anxious to help. BGE was glad to install a new nest platform on the utility pole, and we were ready with two of our “artificial nests”, made using a laundry basket and lots of sticks, to attach to the new platform.

Meanwhile, Steve Hult and his neighbor, Mike Martin, rescued another, slightly younger osprey chick that fell from its nest into the Chesapeake Bay in Edgewater, MD. They brought it to Owl Moon Raptor Center. The nest was inaccessible even by boat, so we were unable to return this baby to his parents. The next best thing was to find a foster family with space for another chick. It made perfect sense to foster this chick into the nest we were replacing in Pasadena.

By June 30th, all was in place for us to go forward with the plan. The two fire victims were healed and healthy, and growing restless in their cage. The younger chick was rested, and all were eating well. The BGE team installed the new platform, added some nest material, and then wired the nest baskets on.

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Finally, after offering a brief tutorial on handling birds of prey, we loaded the chicks into insulated bags for the journey home. With the adults flying overhead and watching their every move, the BGE team raised the three chicks up and carefully placed them in their new nest. The two fire victims were a week older now, and began flapping their wings as soon as they were placed on the platform. One even flew after several minutes (he later returned).

When all was quiet, the adults landed on the platform and resumed parental duties. Since then, the Warner family has enjoyed watching the osprey family from their front porch. The parents, and now all three chicks, are flying about. The adults continue to provide food while they teach their youngsters how to catch fish for themselves. This process will take weeks, which is just fine with the Warners, who know how lucky they are to have a front row seat. We at Owl Moon are happy to hear their updates. We are grateful to all who were involved in this rescue effort. Sometimes it really does take a village!

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