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Wild Osprey

Many readers will have heard of ospreys but few will have had the privilege to see one, especially at close quarters.

Ospreys are fish eating birds of prey and are a rare summer visitor and breeding bird in the UK, with estimates of some 100 pairs in the country (predominantly in Scotland). The birds are up to two foot long (head to tail), with a wing span of up to five-and-a-half foot. The birds live in and around water and feed on fish, with dramatic dives from 10-40m. Whilst most UK individuals live and breed in Scotland, they travel south in September, often moving from fishery to fishery as they travel south prior to migrating to Africa to escape the rigours of the UK winter. Both at these times, as well as when they return in March and April, these magnificent birds are occasionally seen travelling through Gloucestershire. It is even now reported that some individuals having discovered the rich pickings of commercial fisheries in the south and remain at these on their return migration.

At the Clockhouse Veterinary Hospital, although we are used to welcoming unusual birds, we were thrilled to admit an injured wild osprey from a site within 25 miles of Stroud in the week commencing 16/04/01. The bird had been caught in some nylon netting, but on examination it was found that a fish hook had lodged in its middle gut. After intensive support care and round the clock supplementary feeding in the hospital, the bird underwent two separate major surgeries to repair injuries and recovery the hook which had become lodged in the distal oesophagus, just below the heart.

As ospreys frequent commercial fisheries in order to feed on fish, swallowing a fishing hook is an occupational hazard of being an osprey. This would typically occur when a bird catches a fish which a fisherman had previously hooked but which had broken the line and “got away”. Many fisheries now insist on the use of barb-less hooks, principally so that fish can get away or those which are released are less damaged. Neil Forbes FRCVS, who operated on the osprey, commented: “the fact that the hook was barb-less made all the difference in our ability to save this wonderful bird’s life”. Neil Forbes advocates the use of barb-less hooks on all fisheries in view of the obvious benefits to wild life.

The bird was released back to the area where it had been recovered from on 27/04/01 and has made an apparently uneventful return to the wild. For reasons of the bird’s security the location of release is confidential.

Further details available from Neil Forbes FRCVS or practice manager Melvyn Wilkins.

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