The bird, brought safely to the ground, has its leg untangled from a mess of twine and netting. Photo submitted by Pam Mulholland.
Anyone who has taken in a ball game at the Hall of Fame’s Rotary Field in the past few years will be familiar with the large nest perched atop the light standard in right field as well as its inhabitants, a family of ospreys – fish-eating birds of prey that were featured on Canadian $10 bills from 1989 to 2001.
One St. Marys resident who has taken particular interest in the family of birds is Herman Veenendaal, a self-described “lifelong birdwatcher and photographer.” For over a month with the help of some long-lens camera equipment, Veenendaal had been observing the latest brood of three osprey chicks in their diamond-side home. Thanks to the fast-acting of Veenendaal and some others, one of those young birds will get to enjoy many more baseball games from the comfort of their 500-level nest.
“I go there a couple of times a week to take pictures as they progress,” he said, noting that this is the third year the birds have nested at Rotary Field. Around July 24, he began to see the young birds testing out their wings, flapping them and lifting off as high as a foot off the nest before setting back down. By July 28, two of them had begun going out for solo flights but, three days later, he noticed that the third appeared to be struggling to leave the nest.
“The third one was trying to fly, lifting off the nest as far as he could and his left leg was coming up, but there was clearly something tugging on his right leg,” he said. “Through my long lens I could see it was something green, and I knew there was a lot of green twine in the nest.”
Green binder twine and some netting the bird’s mother had used to bed its nest had become tangled all the way around the fledgling’s right leg, preventing it from moving around its nest.
“I watched the same thing happen over a two-hour period,” Veenendaal said. “It kept trying and couldn’t take flight. He was just stuck in place. I thought, ‘This is not good. That bird is not going to make it’.”
Veenendaal headed home on the evening of July 31 to call his friend Douglas Fread, a committee member with the Hall of Fame. Veenendaal also emailed Fread a zoomed-in photo he’d taken showing the twine tangled around the bird’s leg. Fread forwarded the photo to local electrical contractor Andy Forman to find out if it would be possible to gain access to a lift truck to put someone up in the nest to give that young osprey a helping hand. From there, Forman started making some phonecalls.
The next day, Brian Salt, of the Mount Brydges-based Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Centre, was at the Hall of Fame, surveying the situation. The last thing Salt wanted was to have a run-in with the young bird’s very territorial parents. “On other rescues we’ve done, we’ve been dive-bombed by parents who are just protecting their baby,” Salt said. “Even though we have the best of intentions, they see us a predator. Those talons are almost as big as a bald eagle’s, as far as length is concerned. They can do a fair amount of damage.”
Brian Salt, of Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Centre in Mount Brydges, prepares to return the bird to its nest. Photo submitted by Pam Mulholland.
But for the time being, Salt said, the parents appeared to both be off hunting. So, he told the driver of the truck Forman had helped arrange, “Let’s get up there right away.”
The young bird was not that hospitable to his would-be rescuer, said Salt, but he was able to grab the bird by its feet, detaching it from the nest as well as removing any other possible snares for future generations. Taking the bird down with him to the ground, Salt freed it from the tangles and assessed it wasn’t in need of any further veterinary attention.
“The parents were still feeding him,” he said. “So he was in pretty good shape that way, but that would’ve ended before long. He probably would’ve lost the use of his leg altogether had he not been taken down and freed from the twine.”
Placed back safely in its nest, a mere 30 minutes after the ordeal began, the bird promptly flew off on its maiden flight. According to Veenendaal, on last inspections the osprey parents were still bringing fish to the nest for their young, but the three happy chicks were learning to feed themselves.
Salt said that, for him, the message is that people should be aware of what they discard and how they’re discarding it. “Things like fishing line, thread, string, binder twine – birds use all those things for nesting material,” he said. “It’s amazing how many calls we get every year here at Salthaven with birds that are hung up in the nest, just like this little osprey was. We see it with robins and all kinds of songbirds.”
Recently a young merlin falcon had to be put down after a shredded plastic shopping bag wrapped around its leg and caused a fracture, he said. “So, if you see binder twine or fishing line lying around, put it in the garbage,” he said. “You’ll never see the life that you’re saving, but I can almost guarantee that you will be saving a life – especially in the spring time when nests are being made.”
Salt said he has run Salthaven for the past 15 years, and about 100 volunteers work there for three shifts per day, seven days a week in order to keep up with the roughly 60 calls a day they receive regarding sick, injured or orphaned wildlife. A video of the osprey rescue Salt filmed using a body-mounted Go Pro camera will be posted on the Facebook page for Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Centre in the coming days.