August 23, 2016 – At the end of July, an immature Osprey fell from her nest into Rollins Reservoir in Nevada County. Not being able to fly or swim, the young bird was rescued by a passing boater who offered it a stick to climb on to. Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release (WR&R) was called and they collected the Osprey, housing her in one of their large outside cages (mews).
Laurel Gunderson, a Raptor Team Leader for WR&R is one of the Osprey’s rehabbers. “Ospreys are probably the most difficult bird of prey to rehab and juvenile ospreys are the worst. We had to force feed this bird 2-3 times a day for the first couple of days. Then she would take fish from the hemostat but would often fling it back in our faces. It was stressful for us as well as the Osprey. Although fierce, these birds are renown for not eating in captivity and often die from fear/stress,” explained Gunderson.
Not new to Osprey rehabbing, Laurel and Eric Gunderson later employed a method of feeding they learned at the Raptor Training Center at the University of Minnesota. They bought all the trout they could find in local grocery stores placing one fish at a time on a tall post in her mew. “We carefully positioned the fish so that it looked like it might be swimming with its dorsal fin up. And to our delight, it worked! She quickly swooped down onto the fish and ate it all,” stated Gunderson.
“We would like to thank SPD Market for special ordering and packaging the trout for us as well as the Osprey Fledgling Fish Funders whose donations purchased the fish. She was an expensive bird to feed and only wanted trout. Bluegill caught just for her were not to her liking. Since we have cared for her, she gained a half pound, a significant weight gain for a bird just under 3 pounds,” said Gunderson.
The young bird continued to thrive. In mid August, she was “creanced” for the first time to strengthen her flight muscles. Eric and Laurel, working as a team, attached leather thongs to her legs with a 150-foot line attached. They had to use extreme caution, not only to protect the bird, but also to prevent the deadly talons and very sharp beak from injuring either rehabber.
When all was ready, Eric Gunderson gently tossed the bird into the air to encourage her to fly. “Although the Osprey did not seem to know what to do on the first try, later attempts were very successful. We are thrilled. She flew beautifully! After two more “creancing” sessions to strengthen her wings, we plan on releasing her,” said Gunderson.
And yesterday, August 22, was the day scheduled for the release. She was put in a travel crate and taken to the release site. With minimal fuss, Eric removed the Osprey from the crate, held her secure and then gently lifted her into the air. “She flew free, circling back toward us once and then disappearing into the distance. It is an amazing feeling, watching such a beautiful bird fly free where she belongs,” said Gunderson.
Ospreys are birds of prey that live near water and are excellent anglers. “They have unique outer toes and barbed pads on their feet enabling them to hang on to slippery fish. The birds in this area most often migrate to Mexico for the winter,” concluded Gunderson.
Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release is an all volunteer, nonprofit organization that cares for injured and orphaned native wildlife including small mammals, raptors, songbirds and bats in Nevada County.