Banding efforts tell story
By John Faucher
Thunderstorms loomed in the western skyline. The air was hot, humid and void of any breeze.
Pat Fisher, 81, just finished chores in late June at the Feather Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in New London, where she cares for more than 30 birds and animals.
The licensed rehabilitator specializes in raptors or birds of prey.
She sat in her quiet living room as she watched a closed circuit television screen monitoring a flight pen at the center.
Inside the pen was an adult female osprey injured a few weeks earlier.
Fisher said a train engineer from Canadian National Railroad found the bird near the trestle bridge at Gills Landing.
“It was tangled in fishing line hanging upside down by both feet and a wing,” said Fisher. “They stopped the train to rescue the bird.”
It’s people like that who keep Fisher doing what she is doing.
“You meet a lot of really cool people that pay attention and care,” said Fisher. “Not everybody would have stopped.”
Just then, the bird flew across the flight pen to a dish of water.
“She’s going to make it,” said Fisher with her eyes glued to the monitor. “She did real well this morning. I think she wants another fish.”
The North American osprey is the only raptor to feed almost exclusively on live fish.
The adult wingspan reaches over 5-feet long and their bellies are white as snow with deep brown feathers across their back. They are also characterized by their distinct facial markings.
This particular bird did not have a band on its leg, so it would be impossible to know its actual age or origins. Fisher said when the bird fully recovered, they intended to band it before releasing it back to the wild.
“This one will be number F-25 when she’s released,” said Fisher.
Banding studies help track osprey migrations and provide researchers with valuable information on their longevity and mortality rates.
Fisher and a team of volunteers participate in banding efforts each year around the Fourth of July.
She said young osprey have high mortality rates and up to 80 percent never make their first winter migration to South America. Survivors will often return to the same nesting location each year.
Young birds often stay in South America for the first two years after their first migration.
One of the birds recently banded at Memorial Park in New London returned two years later and paired up with a mate at the River Road nesting platform in Weyauwega.
Fisher also told of a bird, FO-2 banded at Larsen’s Ditch just south of New London in 2015. That bird was spotted this past winter in Puerto Rico for several weeks. It was reported as healthy.
A different bird banded at the Manawa nesting platform in 2009 turned up in Costa Rica. It was found starving on a riverbank and near death until its rescue by iRescue Wildlife Inc.
Founder and CEO of iRescue Wildlife John Merritt said they have been caring for the osprey for several years.
“He has a growth on his right eye and his vision is badly affected. This could be the sole reason he couldn’t take care of himself,” Merritt told Fisher in an email on June 12.
Merritt was amazed at how Fisher was able to track the bird down.
“We always wondered the story [of where the bird came from].” Merritt wrote.
It is now living at the wildlife center in the mountains above Pejibaye, Costa Rica.
Fisher said aside from the scientific value of banding information, it is also very interesting to see where birds banded locally end up.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates banding and, Fisher said once a bird is banded, receiving valuable follow-up information depends on the bird being found by someone after it is injured or dead or being sighted by someone watching birds that can identify a band number.
Fisher said line crews from We Energies of Weyauwega and Appleton have been instrumental in local banding efforts.
“They help us every year. Without them we couldn’t do this,” said Fisher.
This year volunteers helped band 13 young osprey at five nesting sites in the Weyauwega-Fremont and New London areas.
Fisher said in the past few years they have been seeing an increasing number of young ospreys being predated on by eagles.
She said earlier this summer, she was watching a platform near Gills Landing when a male osprey brought a fish to the nest. As it dropped the fish, an eagle dove in and grabbed it away, much like they do young osprey.
“Eagles and owls are opportunist, they’re going to predate on anything they can get their talons into,” said Fisher.
“That’s nature. We just need to stay out of the way. What we do need to be concerned with are the human causes of raptor mortality, like pesticides and fishing line,” she added.