Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center
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by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
A little more than nine months ago, someone on the outskirts of Puyallup was looking down the barrel of a gun. They had a bird in their sights. She was a large, white bird with a dark back and wings. Just below her neck was a dark-brown pattern of speckling that resembled a necklace. She had an impressive hooked beak, and formidable talons on her large feet. These weapons would afford her no protection against the ill-intentioned primate whose eye she had caught. This was not a bird that people hunt for food.
An Osprey is released on May 24th after 9 months of rehabilitation at the PAWS Wildlife Center.
On August 12th, 2002 Osprey 02-3576 arrived at the PAWS Wildlife center. She had been found near Puyallup on August 10th, stunned and unable to fly. An area near the tip of her left wing was extremely swollen and the feathers were covered in dried blood. A small hole passing through the swollen part of the wing looked suspiciously like the kind of penetrating wound that a bullet creates. The bright flecks of metal (bullet fragments) that were visible on the Osprey's X-ray films confirmed the suspicion. The films also confirmed that the digit
X-rays of the Osprey confirmed that her injuries were due to gunshot.
At some point in her past, Osprey 02-3576 fractured her right radius. We'll never know how it happened, but as the radius is a relatively thin bone at the leading edge of the wing, she likely fractured it by flying into a wire or other immovable object. On the X-ray the now healed fracture appeared to be fairly well aligned. A large bony callus had formed at the fracture site, but this did not seem to impair the movement or function of the wing in any way. It is difficult to imagine that the Osprey was able to fly, let alone hunt with a wing injury of this kind. Whether she managed on her own or had the help of a mate, we will never know. All we know is that she healed and was apparently doing well, that is until her unfortunate human encounter.
At PAWS Osprey 02-3576 once again exhibited her impressive healing abilities. Within six weeks of admission her wounds had healed and the fracture was completely stable. Her feathers now became the primary concern. Feather shaft fragments were removed from the follicles that had been damaged by the bullet to allow new feathers to grow in. It was also necessary to pull other broken wing and tail feathers to stimulate the growth of replacements. It took quite some time, but feathers did eventually grow, even from the damaged follicles. As the feathers finished growing, the Osprey was placed in a large flight pen to assess whether or not she had developed any permanent impairment from her injuries.
Once in the flight pen, the Osprey eliminated any doubt that her flight abilities had been permanently damaged. She flew beautifully, even though she still had several broken primaries that were in need of replacement. Over the course of a few months she regained strength in her flight muscles, and by mid-May she was ready for release.
Osprey 02-3576 leaps into the air at her May 24th release.
After 9 months of captivity, Osprey 02-3576 required a little prompting to step out of her transport carrier. She likely expected to be stepping back into one of the several cages she had known during her time at PAWS. As she exited the carrier she seemed to recognize that her situation had changed, but she wasn't immediately sure what to make of it. The Puyallup River was about 20 feet away, and an old tree-lined access road running parallel to the river stretched out before her. She took a minute or two to assess her surroundings and she let out several tentative calls. As I watched her, I wondered what could have possessed someone to point a gun at her. I marveled at the fact that nine months prior to this someone had looked at this beautiful animal and had seen nothing more than a target.
The Osprey chose a direction and took flight. She headed straight down the old road, and when she reached treetop height she abruptly turned to the west, following the river. As she disappeared from view I hoped that in the future she would only come into contact with humans who see her for what she really is. An amazing being with an extremely strong will to live.
Wildlife Release tally: May 7th to May27th, 2003
Wildlife Release tally: 2003
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