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Osprey patriarch killed by high voltage power line

Nellie, the osprey matriarch, feeds her two remaining chicks as thousands of people around the world watch online. - Web photo
Nellie, the osprey matriarch, feeds her two remaining chicks as thousands of people around the world watch online.
— image credit: Web photo

Nelson has lost its avian namesake.

The patriarch of a fledgling family of osprey that is currently being filmed via a live webcam atop a power pole on Highway 3A went missing on June 19 after delivering fresh fish to his month-old chicks. In osprey families, the father typically hunts while the mother feeds and protects her young.

According to reports from Nelson Hydro and his devoted online fans, Nelson was a devoted and attentive father before his death.

Nelson Hydro line manager Doug Pickard said they were alerted to Nelson’s disappearance on June 20.

“We noticed that the male member of our nesting pair was missing. Hoping for his return, we monitored the nest more closely over the next few days but unfortunately he never showed.”

When Nelson hadn’t reappeared over the weekend, employees discussed the situation and the potential connection between his disappearance and a local power outage. Online speculation that Nelson’s demise might have been brought about by an over-zealous hunter abounded but was quickly dismissed by staff.

“Being power line people, we knew that 25 amp high voltage fuses blowing sounds very similar to a shotgun being fired,” said Pickard.

They discovered the electrocuted osprey’s corpse a few days later during a ground inspection.

“We found him underneath a power line that services the sewer treatment plant, between the plant and the highway in a ravine,” said Pickard. “He had a good-sized fish in his claws. It was a rainbow trout.”

Nelson’s collision with a high-voltage line had indeed caused a June 20 power outage in the Grohman area. In the wild, this may have been a death sentence for his newborn progeny. But Nelson Hydro has committed to doing everything in their power to help the chicks survive the approximately five weeks it will take them to reach maturity.

To that end, they began working with a local raptor biologist.

“She confirmed that since several days had elapsed and still no male had shown up…the chicks would quickly become dehydrated unless they were fed, but the female would be reluctant to hunt, thereby leaving the nest unprotected from predators and the chicks susceptible to chilling if wet,” he said.

“The biologist had successfully supplemented fish to an osprey nest before, but there was no guarantee this female would accept fish delivered to her. Also, to do this we would need approval from the Ministry of Environment. Any work would need to be done as volunteer time, but Nelson Hydro would loan the equipment.”

Several employees volunteered for the task. He said their original method, using a bucket truck to hand-deliver the fish, has been replaced by a less intrusive method.

“We wanted to arrange a delivery system that isn’t quite so invasive. A bucket truck makes a lot of noise, and the mom’s off-nest while we’re doing it. So we’ve created a tray lift that works on a pulley system. She’s gotten quite adept a pulling the fish off there,” he said.

Pickard said the chicks are unbothered by the origins of their food, as long as it comes.

“They’re hungry little devils,” he said.

Unfortunately, one of the newborn ospreys passed away on June 24. The surviving siblings seem to be healthy, though one is significantly larger than the other. Both were seen hungrily feasting with their mother Nellie, who was picking pink strings of meat from some slimy fish skin and delivering it to her chicks’ gaping mouths just before press time on Monday.

Since the introduction of the webcam, a passionate osprey community has congregated online to follow the progress of the embattled osprey chicks. Anyone interested in contributing to their survival can donate suitable fresh fish to the Nelson Hydro office reception at 80 Lakeside Drive between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. during the work week. To keep updated on the osprey chicks, watch the live feed at ustream.tv/channel/nelson-osprey-nest.

TIMELINE

June 12, 13 and 15 -Osprey chicks born

June 20 - A power outage is reported in Grohman Creek. The osprey cam loses service.

June 21 - Online fans speculate about the disappearance of Nelson, the osprey father.

June 23 - Nelson Hydro employees discuss options to help the mother and chicks.

June 24 - Nelson Hydro begins delivering fish to the osprey nest.

June 25 - Employee discovers Nelson's corpse under a power line during a ground inspection.

June 26 - Nelson Hydro commits to feed the osprey chicks until they're fully grown.

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