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Group effort rescues two birds in state park, but a third one has not been found.
Dr. Kelli Knight (right) and Kristin Britton, intern veterinarian, drove the birds back to Smith Mountain Lake from the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro. Photo courtesy of Wildlife Center of Virginia
Smith Mountain Lake State Park rangers and veterinarians from The Wildlife Center of Virginia return the two fledgling opreys to their nest 30 feet in the air. Photo courtesy of SML State Park
Friday, August 2, 2013
Viewers from all over the world can watch via Web cam the osprey return every season to Smith Mountain Lake State Park in Huddleston.
The federally protected raptors are keen hunters, diving in mid-flight to grab a fresh meal of fish from the lake. Their numbers are growing at SML, and although there are other nests that dot the lake, only the one at the state park is outfitted with a camera.
Faithful viewers and park staff alike were concerned when, while resetting the camera, staff members found the nest empty on the morning of July 6. The three fledglings had disappeared. That afternoon, park staff found two of the birds on the ground.
“We wanted to make sure the birds had not sustained any injury,” said Lauri Schular, a nature interpreter at the park. “We were able to get the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center to transport them to the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro, where they got a clean bill of health from the vet.”
The third osprey has not been seen since.
“There was an exhaustive search for it, but no sign of it was found,” said Schular.
No one knows for sure why the birds left the nest, but Schular said they likely were testing out their wings and were not able to make it back to the nest, which is 30 feet in the air.
Sabrina Garvin, a certified wildlife rehabilitator with the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center, was called in to help when the birds were found on the ground. Representatives from the center conducted a preliminary examination of the birds, but they are not equipped to handle large raptors, so Garvin immediately arranged for transportation to the WCV.
“We are the largest wildlife center in the state,” said Dr. Kelli Knight of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. “We are able to handle large raptors, including bald eagles, and we are the only wildlife center in the state that is authorized to rehabilitate black bear .”
Doctors at WCV said one of the ospreys had a minor wing injury consistent with falling from the nest. The other had some cloudiness in an eye, which they said was relatively common and not a concern.
Both birds weighed about 5 pounds. They were tagged with numbered leg bands so if they are ever lost again, they can be tracked.
Because the young birds were in good health, it was decided that re-nesting was the best option. Ospreys do not do well in captivity, and it can be difficult to get them to eat.
“They are a high-stress species, and so they are one of the most difficult species to raise in captivity,” said Knight .
At first, the ospreys were tube-fed by Garvin.
“When they were in our care, we offered them a variety of fish in hopes they would eat on their own. The first night they did not eat; by the second night, they were eating fish on their own,” Knight said.
Getting involved in natural processes is not always the direction park officials take. The Web cam played a role in the decision-making, Schular said.
“The Web cam is watched by people from all over. We don’t know what’s happening on the other nests at the lake. It is hard not to get involved when you are sitting here watching the chicks develop every single day,” she said.
“In this case, because we knew where the nest was, we knew the time they fell from the nest because of the camera, and the birds were otherwise healthy and uninjured,” Knight said. “It was the perfect opportunity to get them back to the nest. Most of the time, we don’t have that information.”
While the chicks were away, park staff saw the birds’ parents in the area of the nest. That made re-nesting more feasible, but it had to be done quickly.
In all, the birds were gone from the nest for three days. On July 9, park and WCV staff boarded a cherry picker and lifted the chicks back to their nest.
“Within a couple of hours, the parents were back in the nest feeding the chicks,” Knight recalled. “We had put fish in the nest with the chicks when we returned them to the nest.”
“ Otherwise-educated, intelligent adults think that chicks having human smell on them will be rejected by their parents,” said Knight. “Birds don’t have a sense of smell. If you find a baby bird and you see the nest and put it back in there, there is absolutely no chance of rejection. The parental bond is much stronger than that.”
Ospreys have made a strong comeback and are no longer an endangered species, but they are still federally protected. Their feeding and breeding areas are federally protected, as well.
“We likely have more than eight nests around the lake,” said Schular. “Ospreys are natal nesters, which means they are going to come back to nest where they are born. That is another reason we wanted to get these birds back into their nest.”