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Progressive Animal
Welfare Society

PO Box 1037
Lynnwood, WA 98046

Kevin Mack
An Osprey Beats the Odds
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.

Watch the Video

An Osprey is released on May 24th after 9 months of rehabilitation at the PAWS Wildlife Center.

This was not even a bird that is legal to hunt. It is apparent that neither of these facts mattered to the individual that was taking careful aim at the unsuspecting raptor. I know nothing about the person or their motivations. I have no idea whether it was a man, woman, child or adult. I only know the consequences of the choice they made that day. With the mere twitch of a finger they stole nine months of a female Osprey's life.

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

Osprey

X-rays of the Osprey confirmed that her injuries were due to gunshot.

(equivalent to our finger bones, but fused and greatly reduced) at the end of the bird's wing had been badly fractured. The fracture, in conjunction with soft tissue damage and damage to the follicles of several flight feathers, made the bird's chances for a full recovery questionable at best. But there was something else on the X-ray that indicated that this Osprey was a survivor, and she had apparently already overcome a past wing injury on her own.

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

Osprey 02-3576 leaps into the air at her May 24th release.

The only things left to attend to were the remaining broken primary feathers, and these were repaired through a process known as "imping". During the imping process the broken portions of feather on one bird are replaced with unbroken portions of feather from another bird (See "Feather imping helps return a bird to the wild" for more information). In this case the broken portions of Osprey 02-3576's feathers were replaced with unbroken feathers from a male Osprey that had died a few days earlier at another rehabilitation center. The imping took place on Friday May 23rd. Release came early the following morning.

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

1 Cooper's Hawk
1 Western Tanager
17 Eastern Gray Squirrels
1 Steller's Jay
1 English House Sparrow
5 Eastern Cottontails
1 Sharp-shinned Hawk
20 Virginia Opossuma
1 Rhinoceros Auklet
1 American Crow
27 Eastern Gray Squirrels
1 Townsend's Chipmunk
1 Northern Flicker
1 Mallard
1 Osprey


Wildlife Release tally: 2003
184 animals - Last issue's tally was incorrect and we apologize for the error.

All rights reserved. 2003 Progressive Animal Welfare Society