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August 18, 2010

Osprey Family Lands in Laundry Basket

New "nest" replaces bird-built home destroyed by storm

The Humane Society of the United States / The Fund for Animals

  • The Osprey chick, in the basket, didn't appear to mind the change of habitat in the least. He's now nearly a fledgling and ready to take to the skies. All photos by Heather Fone/The HSUS

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    Just like it was a nest they built themselves, the chick hung out in his basket waiting hungrily for his parents to bring some chow.

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    The basket was bolted to the tree, making it just about impossible to ever come down on its own again.


by Julie Hauserman

Carol Vail was fascinated this summer as she watched Osprey chicks and their parents in a huge nest behind her house on Cape Cod. But in mid July, a violent storm blew the nest from the tree into the water. That's when she saw that one chick had drowned and the other was desperately trying to keep his head above water.

“We saw the parents frantically circling and calling to the chick,” said Vail, who had a friend visiting at the time.

To the Rescue

“Trying to think who to call, I tried a couple of numbers but couldn't find anyone to help,” Vail said. “I thought immediately of my friend Bonnie Driscoll and her husband Alan—definitely people made for a crisis.  They were here in moments.” 

“At this point,” she said, “the nest had broken up, and the baby Osprey was in the water.  Alan never hesitated.  Without a minute to spare, he jumped in the water with his shoes and socks on and plucked the fledgling out of the drink.”

“I put a net over him so he wouldn’t hurt himself,” said Alan, a retired merchant marine officer. “We certainly got a surprise when we saw the size of his talons, which were about an inch long.”

“The poor thing was just about dead,” says Vail.

A Trip to the Vet

The Driscolls knew that care for injured wildlife was available about 25 miles away, at the Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, Mass. The center is operated by The Humane Society of the United States in partnership with The Fund for Animals.

The Driscolls put the soaked chick in a box and drove 25 miles to Cape Wildlife Center, where veterinarian Dr. Roberto Aguilar was able to revive the bird and then contacted the nearby Massachusetts Audubon’s Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary about re-nesting the baby bird.

Within 24 hours, the chick was back at his “home tree” with an unusual nest waiting.

A New Home

“We were able to scrounge a laundry basket, which was a novel solution, but looking at the results, it actually worked,” said Ian Ives, director of the sanctuary. The sanctuary monitors Osprey nests on Cape Cod in conjunction with Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, using citizen volunteers.

Chris Walz, the Long Pasture Sanctuary’s property manager, climbed the tree and bolted the white laundry basket onto a branch about 15 feet below the original nest. Then the chick was put inside.

“Fortunately, the adults weren’t away from their young for a very long time,” Ives said.

Everyone crossed their fingers that the parents would return to their chick.

“After a tense two days,” Vail said, “I was elated to see Mama, sitting on a nearby branch, tearing up pieces of fish for her hapless baby.

Heather Fone, Animal Care Technician at Cape Wildlife Center, comes by to check on the bird and take photographs of the unusual nest. Rescuer Driscoll visits as well.

“It’s kind of nice seeing the little guy happy and taking food and getting ready to fly,” he says.

A lifelong New England resident, Driscoll remembers that ospreys were abundant during his childhood.

“I can also remember them disappearing because of (the pesticide) DDT,” he said.

Today, the Osprey population on Cape Cod is, thankfully, on the rebound. Vail’s phone call, Driscoll’s selfless rescue, and the expertise of Cape Wildlife Center and Massachusetts Audubon made it possible for this one special bird to survive.

“The whole thing is just astonishing,” says Vail. “That chick made it! He’s a very noisy bird now, he flaps his wings. I tell people he’s filing his flight plan soon. It’s a really happy ending -- We have one more osprey, thanks to some timely human help!”

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