Raptor researchers rescue entangled osprey

Tyler Veto, of Raptor View Research Institute, handles the tangled female osprey after Adam Shreading of Raptor View Research Institute, netted the bird on the cone noose trap. Ilona McCarty for the Post Register

SALMON — Raptor rehabilitators from Montana and an Idaho wildlife biologist last week freed a female osprey from baling twine that had entangled its feet and threatened to doom the bird to a slow, agonizing death from starvation.

The five-hour operation that disentangled the female osprey nesting on a high platform near the local high school is similar to rescue missions that happen each spring tied to osprey in the Upper Salmon River Basin, said Beth Waterbury, regional wildlife biologist for the Idaho Fish and Game office in Salmon.

The orange- or yellow-colored twine commonly used in agricultural operations in Lemhi County and elsewhere to bind hay bales is irresistible to the birds of prey as a form of soft, pliable material used to line nests of twigs and sticks built in early spring.

But the twine, prized by people for its tensile strength, can entangle ospreys, sometimes hampering their flight or preventing them from being able to hunt their preferred prey of fish and mice. Alternatively, the twine catches on a structure such as a fence and hangs the birds.

“It’s a chronic issue,” Waterbury said.

Recognizing that the twine is indispensable for working ranches, and yet a hazard to wildlife, Idaho Fish and Game in Salmon and groups such as the Lemhi County Extension have developed a recycling program for ranchers and others.

Under the new program, used, dirt-free baling twine can be taken to Salmon Millcreek Recycling and Salvage or stockpiled at area ranches for pickup by Soderquist Farms of Terreton.

The painstaking, but ultimately successful, operation that led to the female osprey’s freedom last week gathered the resources of two bird experts with the Raptor View Research Institute in Missoula, Mont., and Jim Ledbetter, a Salmon tree trimmer who contracts with Fish and Game for use of his boom truck with high-rise bucket.

The female osprey had been spending the bulk of its time incubating several eggs, relying on its mate to supply nourishment. Waterbury said that strategy would have failed with the emergence of hungry hatchlings, when both parents are needed to hunt for food, process it and feed it to their young.

Eventually, the rescue team trapped the female osprey on the nest using a cone of hardware cloth tied with hundreds of slipknot nooses. The operation required placing phony osprey eggs in the nest while the authentic ones were incubated nearby.

Waterbury said the mission was slowed by the osprey male that took to heart its job of helping to incubate the eggs while its mate took a break.

“He was no nonsense about incubating those eggs, he was back on that nest in short order,” Waterbury said.

The male osprey was captured in the cone and held for a period to prompt the female to return to her duties at the nest – which it did after a few false starts.

“It was a bit of a rodeo,” Waterbury said. “But now she’s on the nest, incubating away and the ospreys appear to be back in business.”

Ospreys, known for their keen eyesight and fierce defense of their territory when threatened by predators, mate for life, she said.

Waterbury credited the male osprey for keeping its partner alive and in better physical condition than expected.

“He was probably compensating for what she was unable to do, which was feed herself,” she said.

Landowners interested in recycling twine should contact the Salmon Millcreek facility at (208) 756-1886 or Soderquist Farms at (208) 663-4894.