An adult and two osprey chicks along the Snake River have been rescued by local wildlife workers after the adult became tangled in fishing netting last week.
It's the fifth time in three years that U.S. Fish and Wildlife has rescued osprey that would have died after becoming tangled in trash, usually discarded fishing line or netting, said Dan Haas, a biologist with the Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
"Who knows how many are dying without ever being discovered?" Haas said.
Instances of owls becoming trapped in discarded fishing line along the Columbia River also have been reported in recent weeks, with a great horned owl dying on an island near Richland, according to Fish and Wildlife.
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Last week's rescue of three osprey started when Jacen Davidson of Kennewick was boating with his family on the Snake River during a week of vacation and spotted a nesting osprey. It was on a nesting platform set up by the Army Corps of Engineers about a half-mile up the Snake River from the Highway 12 bridge near Burbank.
When another family came along, the adult osprey in the nest was startled and knocked a chick from the nest, he said. The other family took the chick to Blue Mountain Wildlife in Pendleton.
On Wednesday, Davidson and his family took the boat out again and this time saw one adult osprey outside the nest that kept tilting its head down. The other adult osprey was about 150 yards away near the top of a Russian olive tree with its foot tethered to a branch by netting that it was trailing.
He could not reach wildlife officials until the next day, but then wildlife officials walked a half-mile in with Davidson to guide them, finding the osprey still stuck in a tree that was hanging out over the water.
Because they didn't think they could rescue the bird without harming it on land, the Corps and Fish and Wildlife sent a boat up the river, only to decide a river rescue also looked difficult.
With the osprey appearing to be wearing out, Cory Thompson, a Fish and Wildlife fire specialist, cleared materials away from the base of the tree and cut it down to fall toward the river where the boat could be used to help rescue the osprey.
"The tree came down perfectly and the osprey ended up 10 feet above ground," Haas said. The osprey was hanging from the downed tree on a branch right at the water's edge.
A boat hook and ropes were used to pull the branch down enough to allow Fish and Wildlife biologists to reach the osprey. There was so much fish netting wrapped around the osprey's claw that it took 10 minutes to cut it away, Haas said.
Haas believes that the netting attached to the osprey's foot was what knocked the chick out of the nest earlier in the week. "It snagged a chick and out it went," he said.
The second adult osprey was no longer at the nest, but on a hunch Davidson and Haas walked over to the nesting platform and found a second chick on the ground.
"It was alive but it had probably been there a while," Haas said.
It has been reunited with its sibling at Blue Mountain Wildlife, where one is being treated for a broken toe. They both are close to being old enough to fly.
The adult osprey that had been trapped appeared to be exhausted and dehydrated but was not emaciated yet when it was rescued, Haas said. It flew to the other side of the river when it was released and should make a full recovery, he said.
Osprey are particularly prone to getting trapped in fishing line and netting because they have two forward claws and two backward claws designed for grasping fish, Haas said. They also spend time along the water in the same places that anglers do.
Fish and Wildlife also had to rescue osprey tangled in baling twine twice at the McNary National Wildlife Refuge in August 2011, in addition to the five rescued in the past three years.
Research by the University of Montana has estimated that 10 percent of osprey die annually from entanglement in twine or fishing line. They and other birds may use twine or netting in their nests and can get a talon trapped in the nest, in addition to trailing caught line and getting tethered to branches.
"We really aren't equipped or have the resources to rescue wildlife," Haas said. But on Thursday "the circumstances matched our capabilities."
Fish and Wildlife asks that fishing line and netting not be discarded on the ground and that people who find discarded line when they are out fishing and boating pick it up to protect wildlife. Landscape netting and twine cut from hay bales should not be left lying on the ground.
Any stringy material should be cut into small sections, if possible, when disposing of it in the trash, according to Fish and Wildlife.
"One discarded net ruined an entire nest," Haas said. "I don't think people realize just how deadly these materials can be to wildlife."