In June, at a very inopportune moment, a juvenile Osprey decided it was time to leave his nest. Most birds’ first flights are less than graceful, but this one’s initial attempt at flying went particularly badly. He landed in the bed of a pickup truck. Whether the truck was in motion or parked at the time, the Osprey could not tell us. Neither could the driver of the truck; he only noticed the bird once he got home and he had no idea where he had picked up his unfortunate passenger. It was likely that the bird hopped aboard somewhere along the eastern bank of the Potomac River south of the city, but that is all he could conclude.
After a stop at a private veterinary hospital and an overnight in the animal shelter, the young Osprey arrived at City Wildlife hungry, dehydrated, and disoriented. First step for our staff was to give the bird a thorough physical, which found him to be in generally good shape, with the exception of the above-mentioned minor problems. The dehydration was addressed with a saline solution administered subcutaneously. Feeding our new guest was a bit trickier. Though the bird was accustomed to taking fish from his parents, he was old enough to tell the difference between Mom and Dad and a rehab staffer. And he was not about to accept anything the latter offered him. That meant that twice a day he had to be forcibly hand-fed bits of whole fish supplemented with vitamin B1. And for the duration of his stay, he was required to wear “carpal bumpers” and a “tailguard.” The bumpers were simply bandages put on the bird’s wrist to protect the bird’s unusually long wings from bruising in the cage. And the tailguard was a piece of cardboard cut to the size and shape of the tail; it kept the tail feathers, which serve as the bird’s aerial rudder or steering wheel, from breaking and fraying.
Aside from being a bit thin and dehydrated ― and now essentially orphaned ― this bird was in pretty good shape. Once he was stabilized, there was no real reason to keep him any longer. But we did not know where his nest was. Since our center does not have the space that a growing Osprey needs, he was driven to Tri-State Bird Research and Rescue in Delaware. Shortly after that, the Tri-State veterinarian declared him ready for release, and he was put in the competent hands of Pete McGowan, a US Fish and Wildlife official who, among other duties, monitors the Ospreys nesting on Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay. His task was to introduce our former ward to surrogate parents by placing him in an active nest, and then monitoring the situation to make sure the transition went smoothly. (Osprey parents are generally very good about adopting foster kids.) This was quickly done and, by the end of the day, the Potomac River Osprey was a Chesapeake Bay Osprey.