Osprey in Care – the Fish Hawks

Love is a hunting osprey    
above the charging sea –
Silver fish beneath the sky
expose their dreams to fly.

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), the Fish hawk, an easily observed raptor who plunge-dives feet first from the sky to catch fish, lifting themselves and their prey straight back into the sky. A familiar sight: one of these large, long-winged birds carrying a trout or a perch, or any other of the over 80 species of fish that make up nearly all of their diet.(1)

We don’t often see these birds in care. When we do, often we are only able to help them out of this world due to the severity of their injuries – collisions with industry, fishing gear, and other hazards industrial civilization has brought to rivers, lakes, shorelines of fresh and salt water. Rarer still that we raise their young as orphans.

The challenges of raising wild predators are steep. Predators need to learn how to hunt. This is something that parents teach their young, something that adults of a family group can teach, even, in some cases, a foster parent. We can place young nestling hawks into a another nest of the same species and the new “parents’ will care for the young newcomer as their own.

For a wild animal like the Osprey, the challenges are clearly greater. It’s a rare species that produces young who don’t do better with their parents help post-natally. For young Osprey, an adult to lead the way is crucial. For wildlife rehabilitators to successfully raise any wild animal, serious attention to that patient’s natural history and a means to replicate those principles as best we can are essential. For orphaned Osprey, recreating the juvenile period of education requires a degree of specialization.

Our work with other plunge-diving species, like the Brown Pelican or Belted Kingfisher, coupled with our work with more commonly admitted land-using birds of prey, such as the Red-tailed Hawk, give us the tools and experience we need to provide good care for these unique birds.

And this Summer, those tools and experience are being put to the Osprey challenge! We have both an adult and a fledlging in care.

2015 Osprey - 106Our adult Osprey patient, brought to our facility after intial treatment at Tehama Wildcare, outside of Red Bluff.

2015 Osprey - 122Our Juvenile Osprey patient was brought to us  from Stanislaus Wildlife Center in Stanislaus County.

The Adult, we believe a female, was a victim, along with her entire family, of a nest fire. In early July, her nest in Red Bluff came in contact with utility equipment (Osprey often nest on utility poles and towers). Her feathers were badly singed. She and a nearly-fledged chick were taken to Tehama Wild Care in Tehama County. After being stabilized, she and her chick were transferred to Humboldt Wildlife Care Center for long term care. Unfortunately, her chick died soon after arriving at our facility, possibly due to stress.

At this point the adult Osprey has an excellent prognosis. Her feather damage is severe, but she is able to fly, and we anticipate a full recovery.

2015 Osprey - 001BAX/HWCC rehabilitator Lucinda Adamason meets Karen Scheuermann of Tehama Wild Care in Weaverville to bring the adult Osprey and her chick to Humboldt for continued care.

2015 Osprey - 037The adult’s feather damage is apparent as she is perched above the pool in our Aviary developed for patients who dive for fish.

2015 Osprey - 047At feeding time, we have opportunities to take photographs. This bird has no desire to be around people and protests loudly when her “space” is violated. Keeping our movements hidden from a sharp predator like her is difficult, but we try so that her stress level stays as low as possible.

2015 Osprey - 104Our second Opsrey patient, a juvenile from Stanislaus County.

After nearly in month in care, we admitted another Osprey, a juvenile who’s been raised by Stanisluas Wildlife Care Center near Modesto. Fearful that the youngster was becoming too accustomed to people, with help from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the bird was transferred to Humboldt Wildlife Care Center to provide an opportunity for recovery. Between our large aviary as well as the company of the adult Osprey , this bird also has a good prognosis.

This bird has some feather damage as well, so, even if all else about her (we believe based on her large size that she is also female) is fine, it will be some time before she will be released.

2015 Osprey - 087The initial exam. The feet that we hope will soon be lifting fish from rivers and lakes!


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2015 Osprey - 091A small amount of blood is periodically collected and tested to make sure that general health is maintained while in care.

The day after the new juvenile arrived we introduced her to the adult with whom she’ll be spending the rest of her care. While it’s hard to tell what any raptor is thinking, the introduction went well – both birds became more interested in each other and appeared less stressed in general. Now it is our hope that they form a bond of some kind – for both of thier sakes.

Because the damage to their feathers may extend their time in care, we have an opportunity to give the young bird the chance for an education in hunting. Because of the adult, the juvenile may actaully wind up with a foster-mother, and the time spent in our aviary will provide her chance to to learn to hunt.
2015 Osprey - 097Introduction day. While it is hard to ever say what any wild animal is thinking, let alone a raptor, the introduction went well. Both birds became immediately more interested in each other than us. Each appeared to become less stressed by the company of the other.

2015 Osprey - 068Stocking the pool with goldfish to begin the process of learning to hunt.

Four years ago we began the hard work of rapidly increasing the capacity of Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. Four years ago, HWCC could have not taken these patients. Four years ago long-term patients, most aquatic birds and others were transferred to rehabilitation facilities in the Bay area.

Thanks to your support we are emerging as the kind of wildlife care facility we’ve long strived for, a place that is respected throughout the state for the quality of the care we provide. We still have more progress planned, and there will always be advancements to make. But with these two Osprey, sent to us from hundreds of miles away, we have the chance to acknowledge the distance we’ve already traveled.

Thank you for helping making Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center into the place we are today. And thank you for looking forward with us, and supporting us in our continued improvement and development – for providing the best care we can, working for the best injury prevention, for continuing to improve co-existence with our wild neighbors and for training the next generation of wildlife caregivers.

2015 Osprey - 076

Thank you for being a part of this life-saving work! Your support is 100% tax-deductible!

All photos Laura Corsiglia/BAX






4 thoughts on “Osprey in Care – the Fish Hawks

  1. The way that is written, you made the SWCC seem at fault with the young osprey and that is NOT correct. As I understand it, the bird came in damaged and imprinted on people. It was probably an illegal pet. For most of the time they treated it, they kept the bird away from people as much as possible. Eventually they made the decision to place the bird someplace with better ability to take care of it. Your facility looks good and I hope the process works.

    In the mean time, please fix how your article is written!

    1. No fault or blame is placed on SWCC for saving this Osprey’s life and sending her on to a facility that has the capacity to finish her care and also has an adult Osprey in care as a role model. Sorry you felt otherwise.

  2. A great story – these beautiful Osprey benefit from a network of wildlife rehabilitators working together across the state.

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