Field Guide: Osprey Rescue


It seemed like a normal morning. As part of Sultana Projects’ Canoe Camp, I was leading a group of young campers on a paddle of the upper Chester River, near Crumpton, MD. We rounded a corner and began approaching the beach where we planned to spend our day swimming and fishing.

I could see my friend, Liz, standing on the dock waving us in. But, as we got closer, I realized something was off. Liz was shouting to us and waving a net over her head, but I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying.

“There’s an osprey stuck in the water!” As her words sunk in, I encouraged the boys in my canoe to pick up their pace and we paddled over to get the net from Liz.

By now, I’d spotted the floundering osprey. Apparently it was a baby who’s first attempt at flight ended with disaster. As its mother circled and shrieked above, the fledgling anxiously swam around the base of its nest.

As I got nearer to the bird, I began to think through my game plan. Was I really about to try to scoop up a raptor and put it in my canoe with two small boys? What if it got nervous and attacked?
Behind me, I heard Charlie’s voice. “John, I have experience with birds. Let me get it.” Charlie is one of my co-workers and has spent many years raising chickens as part of 4-H.
I gave him the net and began filming as he paddled up to the osprey. Despite the fact that it’s less than 6 months old, the osprey was much too large for our net.

Luckily, it seemed to sense that we were there to help. Rather than “catch” the bird, Charlie simply had to hold the net out and let it climb onto the pole. He gently placed the net in his boat and the bird remained perched on it.

Charlie and the boys in his boat began to slowly paddle towards the osprey’s nest. Whenever the bird began to flap its wings and chirp, Charlie would summon his inner “bird whisperer” to soothe it. By talking to it quietly, or imitating its flaps and chirps with his own, Charlie was able to keep the osprey calm.

Once they reached the osprey’s nest, Charlie extended the net towards it. Still unsure, the bird stubbornly clung to the net for a few moments before eventually flapping its wings and hopping back into the bundle of branches where it has spent the entirety of its young life.
We cheered Charlie and the successful rescue of the bird.

Charlie had been careful not to touch the osprey, so as not to transfer his scent, but still we wondered if the mother would return. We watched as she circled off and on for a half an hour before finally settling back in the nest.

Later in the day, the rescued osprey displayed courage and resilience as it attempted once again to fly. This time, all was well and I watched in amazement as it climbed higher and higher, soaring above the trees for the first time in its life.

The entire affair seemed almost dreamlike. And you might not believe it, if I hadn’t captured it on video. While they’re not always this dramatic, I assure you these moments of magic exist in every corner of our County’s great outdoors. If you venture out and pay attention, sometimes you’re lucky enough to witness them.

Letters to Editor

  1. A wonderful act of kindness toward our wildlife. Congratulations to all of you that participated.
    I take pictures of the Oapreys in there nests along 291 and 544 every year. It is a joy to watch the progress of them growing up.

  2. Joanne T. says:

    What a lovely story and great video. Those children will never forget that day and will always want to help an animal in need.
    I participated in a wild bird rehab program years ago. We were told that birds do not have a sense of smell and one can always return a baby who has fallen prematurely, to its nest. The mother will not reject it. I have done this several times and the parents resume feeding.

  3. I was very impressed by the “experienced chicken handler”‘s expertise!
    I am something of a chicken handler myself, and had a similar experience. I was working on a book about ospreys for tidewater (Osprey Adventure) which I was illustrating, and had been hanging around an osprey nest all spring taking photos. One day I went up the usual creek to the nest I was monitoring and there was an osprey in the water looking shocked and wounded. He was flapping in circles with one wing. I was also not inclined to pick it up, but was able to put my paddle under its body and nudge it towards a downed tree where he was able to hop up and dry out. I think it had a broken wing. But when I went back the next day it wasn’t there, so I don’t know what really happened to it.
    Good job, John and Charlie!

  4. Meghan Cooney says:

    Wow, John! Thanks for sharing. What a powerful video and beautifully written piece! A memory to treasure, for sure…

  5. Melissa B. says:

    What a wonderful story and video!! Sultana Projects has the most amazing, caring staff, offering kids experiences they can get nowhere else! Thanks for sharing this story.

  6. Catherine Bushby says:

    Wonderful story!

  7. Carla Massoni says:

    Beautiful. “….moments of magic exist in every corner of our County’s great outdoors.” Let’s hope these moments will be here for many future generations of campers.

  8. QA Resident says:

    Love this! Great job!

  9. Georgina Bliss says:

    So proud of my fabulous son! Hooray for the osprey…….Sultana – what a wonderful program.

  10. This story makes me so happy! Bravo
    To you all…including our dear feathered

  11. That was majorly risky with small children in the canoe but sometimes the risk is worth the reward. Well done chicken handler!

  12. Elizabeth Hill says:

    Great job Charlie! I am sorry it took me so long to find out about this wonderful thing you have done. You have many special gifts which you have shown throughout your 4-H career, and have offered them again for the good of others – in this case the young osprey. Great job!!!

  13. Wow, what an amazing story.
    I enjoyed the video and a really great result for the Osprey.

    Well done!

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