Osprey Emergency

osp3Rescue in Grand Turk

Story & Photo by Richard Ground

As residents of Grand Turk will know, for many years an Osprey nest has graced the top of a utility pole in the south of the island behind the Arawak Inn. Such nest sites get handed down from generation to generation, and this one is right by the appropriately named Hawkes Nest Salina, which tells you something about how far the family go back in that neighbourhood.

I say it graces the top of the pole, and any bird-lover will understand why I say that, but in truth it is a messy sight, for the birds build up their massive nesting platforms not just with sticks and twigs but with any flotsam and jetsam that they can come by. And that’s the problem, because a popular choice of nesting material is old fishing netting and discarded nylon monofilament. This is not clever, because the growing young can get ensnared in their bedding, and once entangled never escape. That is what happened to the brood last year.

In late January 1999, I was out photographing birds in the area south of the nest, when I saw an adult Osprey come flying in low and land by one of the seasonal ponds in the area. Intrigued, I went closer, and saw two white heads bobbing about in the vegetation. When they saw me, the one that had just landed flew off, but the other remained. Curious, I went a little closer, but eventually I stopped, reasoning that it must be a young fledgling which had failed in its first flight attempt and was being cared for by its parents. The golden rule in such a case is to leave well alone, and so I did.

The next evening I went back, just to check, and it was still there in exactly the same place. So, overcoming my scruples, I went closer and closer, but still it did not move. The reason soon became apparent–it was effectively tied down by a mass of fishing line in which its right foot was hopelessly enmeshed. I had no means of freeing it, and by now it was getting late, so I rushed home to get help before dark.

Half an hour later, equipped with a selection of nail scissors and accompanied by my wife, Dace, I returned to the crash site. I then had to seize the bird, carefully folding its large but delicate wings so that they did not get damaged, and hold it while Dace snipped surgically away at its bonds. The filament was wrapped tightly around its foot, and had cut deeply into the flesh, so it took quite some time to free it. However, the big bird seemed to know that we meant it well, and tolerated the operation without struggling. Even when freed it seemed unable to understand the meaning of its liberty. In the end it needed a shove. I picked it up and threw it into the air, and it flapped clumsily away on unaccustomed wings.

But it was not a completely happy ending. When I pulled the bundle of line from the bushes that had held it, I made a grim discovery. Also wrapped up in the line was the mummified body of another, younger bird. It must have died some time before, in the nest, for its adult feathers were still partially encased in the sheathes in which they grow.

The story was not difficult to piece together–as they hatched and grew up, the two youngsters had slowly become trapped. One had become so entwined that it eventually strangled itself, but the other had escaped with only one foot caught. Otherwise it matured normally. Eventually, when the time came for it to leave the nest, it had carried its dead sibling with it and been dragged down by the weight. Once on the ground, the survivor had become snagged in the bushes, where the parents had tended to it until I found it.

Unfortunately, the hapless parents do not seem to have learned anything by the experience. At the time of writing they are refurbishing their nest for the new breeding season, and already it has been enthusiastically festooned with ropes and scraps of fishing nets, and even an old shoe. Although there is nothing that one can do about that–it is not possible to go in and tidy up their nest for them–we can all do something to minimize the risk by not carelessly discarding fishing line, which is in its nature indestructible and never goes away.

1 Comment

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Dan Forand
May 22, 2023 19:36

I read your article “Osprey Emergency: Rescue in Grand Turk” with a mix of awe and deep sadness. I was moved by your brave and dedicated actions to free the young Osprey from the fishing line, proving once again how vital it is for us to respect and protect our natural surroundings.

Your story serves as a potent reminder of the unintended consequences of human activity on wildlife, especially when seemingly innocuous actions, like discarding fishing line, can lead to such disastrous outcomes. It’s distressing to learn about the unnecessary suffering of these birds, all due to human-induced hazards.

While it’s heartening to know you could save one of the Ospreys, the fate of the other was a stark and somber reminder of what is at stake. It underscores the need for increased education and awareness on the importance of responsible waste disposal, especially among fishing communities and enthusiasts.

Your article serves as a significant reminder that we should coexist responsibly with wildlife, understanding the profound impact our actions have on them. It’s a call for us to be more conscientious about our actions, particularly when in or around wildlife habitats.

I look forward to reading more of your work, and commend your efforts in not only assisting these birds in distress but also bringing attention to this critical issue. I love to read and learn as much as I can about these amazing birds considering I work with them often in Cape Cod with my profession (https://www.pilgrimpestpro.com/osprey-control/)

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