What began as a good news story about saving two baby ospreys is now tinged with sadness as one bird has died and the other is still fighting to survive, despite valiant efforts by West Nipissing’s by-law enforcement officer, Pat Rainville.
It all began on Thursday, July 20th, when local fire fighters were alerted that a hydro pole in Lavigne was on fire. The fire was caused by animal contact, as ospreys had nested atop the pole, and their chicks were in the burning nest. The hydro pole in question is located in the back of local farmer Dan Seguin’s field. The osprey nest sat on a beam at the very top of it, and according to Rainville, it had become a well-known landmark for residents of Lavigne.
“I grew up in that area, so I knew about the nest. That nest had been up there for 30 years. It’s kind of a landmark up there. So, I went and sure enough there’s two baby chicks in the nest, and the nest is on fire,” recalls Rainville.
The rescue began with the first bird leaping from the nest not long after Rainville arrived on-scene. He had time to find it, transport it to the Springer Animal Hospital, and drive all the way back to Lavigne. Meanwhile, the second osprey had remained in the nest throughout that time. Roughly two hours passed before the second one finally fell, and Rainville estimates it spent a total of three hours in the nest on fire. Finally, the beam broke, and the whole nest came crashing down. Rainville searched the debris to find the bird.
“The second one I almost gave up on because I couldn’t find it. At the bottom of the pole there’s rocks and brush. The brush was really thick, and with the colour of the bird and the rocks and the brush and the ashes… I used my nose, I could smell it, it smelled like burning meat,” he recalls, adding that he was surprised the bird was alive.
To give an idea of the debris, he describes the nest as being as large as his desk, and that a person could lay down in it. The ospreys are quite large. “I was holding it like a big chicken. Because of the talons and the beak, I wrapped my jacket around it. And that’s a baby bird,” describes Rainville. He took another trip to the animal hospital to bring the second osprey.
Upon arriving at the animal hospital, the birds were treated for the burns and smoke inhalation. “We gave them oxygen, just to help with the smoke inhalation. We really worry about birds, their respiratory tract is very sensitive, so a lot of times toxin or smoke inhalation can be fatal to them. Both birds were breathing on the heavier end, and we gave them some pain meds as well to help with any inflammation or pain that they might have been feeling,” says Carly Rossingol, a Registered Veterinary Technician at the Springer Animal Hospital.
Rossingol adds that it didn’t appear the ospreys had any burns to their skin, but that burn damage can take a few days to really show. Once treated and stabilized, the birds were kept in a dark, quiet room to avoid being overstimulated. Pat Rainville came back the following day to transport the birds from the animal hospital to the Turtle Pond Wildlife Refuge in Val Caron, where they could be cared for and, with luck, rehabilitated.
According to Rainville, the hope was that the birds could be treated and released as quickly as possible in order for them to reintegrate fully and learn what they need to survive from their mother. “Ospreys need to learn from their parents how to hunt fish, which is why rehab centres try to get the osprey chicks back to the mom as soon as possible,” explains Gloria Morissette, Authorized Wildlife Custodian at the Turtle Pond Wildlife Refuge, and the primary caregiver to the ospreys since their arrival.
Unfortunately, since receiving the birds, things have not gone as well as she had hoped. Morissette suspects that the first bird rescued by Rainville was electrocuted, which is what caused it to jump from the electric post. “We’ve been treating them with antibiotics, pain meds, plus the oxygen therapy. They’ve even had laser therapy. One of them, despite everything we’ve done, all the digits on the one foot had blackened and died, so that’s why we think it was electrocution. It was just severe damage and it cut off circulation to his foot. So, that osprey was euthanized because there’s no possibility of release, or any good quality of life with just one foot for an osprey,” she sadly explains.