Triple Rescue And Rehab Ends Well For Lucky Ospreys

Rehabbed osprey flies away after its release Wednesday in Finley, Washington.Andrea Berglin
Rehabbed osprey flies away after its release Wednesday in Finley, Washington.
Andrea Berglin


By Tom Banse, NW News Network


Three young ospreys and a parent are flying free along the Columbia River today after surviving close calls with litter.

One of these ospreys was rescued by BPA linemen last week as it dangled from its nest in a tangle of plastic baling twine near Kennewick, Washington. The other two were pushed out of a different nest near Burbank, Washington, when their mother thrashed about in a wad of derelict fishing net.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Army Corps of Engineers staff captured and cut the mother free last month. All three youngsters were rehabbed at Blue Mountain Wildlife in Pendleton, Oregon.

Center director Lynn Tompkins said the trio was released together at the first nest this week.

“The parents are still there. They’ll feed all three babies. Birds are just amazing that way. It’s like the one baby went back to his nest and he brought two friends home from camp,” Tompkins said with a chuckle.

Tompkins said the second nest was not easily accessible to stage a release there. She said ospreys have an unhealthy fondness for feathering their nests with discarded baling twine or fishing line. No one can explain why.


Twice earlier this year, volunteers with Tompkins’ center responded to osprey entanglements, but the birds were dead by the time rescuers arrived.

“This is as good as it gets. Three out of three,” Tompkins enthused.

She wishes more fishermen and farmers would pick up after themselves when fishing line gets snagged or hay bales are cut loose. “You know, people don’t think of the consequences of their actions, leaving all this stuff around. Or it’s not convenient or something,” Tompkins said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it has been involved in five rescues of entangled ospreys in the last three years just around its Mid-Columbia refuges.

“It’s a really big problem, and who would have thought it,” USFWS natural resource planner Dan Haas said. “It’s a miracle there aren’t more entanglements.”

Haas participated in the initial rescue of the osprey chick pair near his office in Burbank, Washington. He said he is delighted the young raptors recovered from their ordeal and were successfully released back into the wild.

“Who knows how many are dying without ever being discovered,” Haas said.

Recycling programs have started in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Idaho’s upper Salmon River valley to collect used baling twine so the ospreys can’t get it and bring it to their nests in place of lichens and grasses.

Fatal Attraction: Ospreys In A Bind With Baling Twine, Fishing Line


This is how ospreys' unhealthy affinity for baling twine can kill. Idaho Fish and Game biologist Beth Waterbury rescued this osprey in the nick of time.Beth Waterbury Idaho Fish and Game
This is how ospreys’ unhealthy affinity for baling twine can kill. Idaho Fish and Game biologist Beth Waterbury rescued this osprey in the nick of time.
Beth Waterbury Idaho Fish and Game


By Tom Banse, NW News Network


Osprey nests are a common sight near rivers, lakes and bays in the Northwest. If you look closely with binoculars, you might notice some of these large raptors like to line their nests with discarded baling twine or fishing line. The problem is it can kill them.

Now wildlife biologists are working with ranchers and at boat ramps to keep the attractive nuisance out of the ospreys’ clutches.

University of Montana professor Erick Greene has surveyed osprey nests in his home state and parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming. In all those places, he discovered nests festooned with brightly colored plastic twine.

“Basically, wherever you’ve got agriculture, hay fields, livestock — which is a lot of the West — you have baling twine, which is used to tie up hay bales, and you have ospreys,” Greene explained.

Greene said for unknown reasons, the fish hawks are particularly fond of soft, frayed twine. They use it in place of lichens or grasses in their nests.

“Ospreys have a jones for this baling twine,” he said. “I wish they didn’t.”

It’s sometimes a fatal attraction.

Preventing Death By Twine

“It looks as if anywhere between 10 to 30 percent of osprey chicks and adults in some areas that are particularly hard hit are killed by this baling twine,” Greene said.

The entangled raptors can suffer gruesome deaths by strangulation or starve because they can’t fly off to fish. That is, unless someone comes to the rescue — or better yet gives a nest what Greene calls a preventive “haircut.”

Last month, Greene enlisted a bucket truck and a crew of linemen from the Missoula Electric Cooperative to clean up a nest with chicks that sat on top of a power pole in the middle of a ranch by the Clark Fork River.

“This is a nest I’ve been worried about for years,” he said. “It has killed a lot of ospreys over the years. This is going to be a good one to clean up.”



Lineman George Porter and I went up to the nest with scissors. Strands of orange string draped from the wide bowl of sticks like Christmas tinsel.

It appeared as if the ospreys tied knots in the nest.

“That’s basically what it looks like, all tangled,” Porter said. “Yeah, they definitely use it to hold everything together.”

We found multiple kinds of twine in the nest, including a piece of black nylon rope. In the background, you could hear the osprey parents squawking. But they circled at a distance and did not interfere with the quick cleanup of their nest.

Out Of Sight, Out Of Nest

The preferable solution of course would be to keep twine and fishing line out of nests in the first place. In Idaho, the state Department of Fish and Game along with local partners are placing periscope-shaped recycling bins for fishing line at boat ramps.

Idaho Fish and Game wildlife biologist Beth Waterbury also worked on setting up a baling twine pick up and recycling program in her area, the upper Salmon River valley.

“It’s a logical solution and I think it is going to make a difference for the incidence of entanglement,” she said.

In western Montana, student researcher Amanda Schrantz did public outreach to farm groups and individual ranchers. She said many of her contacts didn’t have any idea about the lethal effects of discarded twine or the pressing need to collect and store it out of sight.

“Ospreys will go great distances to pick up this baling twine,” Schrantz explained. “Even though we don’t know why, they are. You kind of have to have 100 percent cooperation with this.”

Schrantz said if just one ranch or dairy leaves twine in its fields, the ospreys will find it. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a private plastics recycler accepts used baling twine and hay wrap.

“We recycle about a quarter million pounds per month of baling twine,” co-owner of Agri-Plas, Allen Jongsma said. He added used twine can be melted down to make new baler twine or automotive parts.

A different company, fishing tackle maker Berkley, recycles recovered monofilament fishing line into artificial reef pieces.