Feeding a finicky osprey
Rehab center needs fresh fish
By Greg Seubert
Pat Fisher has dealt with birds of all kinds in her years of running The Feather Wildlife Rehab/Education Center.
That includes Aly, a 3-year-old female osprey that has called the center home since being struck by a vehicle near Waupaca in 2018.
Aly’s diet consists entirely of fish, which can be hard to come by during the winter.
That’s why Fisher is asking the public to donate whole fish that will be fed to Aly.
“I depend on fishermen, no matter where they are,” she said. “She’s really fussy. If it’s too big, if it has too long a nose or if it’s a redhorse, she won’t touch it. It has to be anywhere from 7 to 20 inches. She loves sheepshead, white bass, crappies, bluegills. We’ll take anything right now.
“When she’s in captivity, she’ll go through maybe one fish a day,” she said. “When it gets to be migration time in the fall, she’ll pack away two or three fish a day. There’s something in her telling her, ‘We’re making a long journey, we have to bulk up.’”
Fisher said anyone interested in donating whole fish can contact her at 920-982-6578. The Feather is located four miles north of New London off of County Trunk T at N5487 Buelow Road.
“Call me to make sure I’m here,” Fisher said. “I’d rather be around if somebody comes. If some of the birds are outside, they get kind of leery of different people.”
WLUK-TV of Green Bay ran a story about Aly earlier in early January asking for the public’s help, but the response hasn’t been that strong, according to Fisher.
“We haven’t gotten too many so far,” she said. “Only seven, which is not good. A couple of them are really small. When an osprey stands on a little fish with a big foot, it disappears. She doesn’t do good on small fish.”
Some of Aly’s fish comes from a rough fish tournament held each year in Shiocton. Catches from that tournament include carp, suckers and sheepshead.
Fisher doesn’t prepare the fish and feeds them to Aly whole.
“She eats everything but the tail,” she said. “If it’s filleted, she won’t eat it.”
Whole fish needed
Mike Young, a retired state Department of Natural Resources conservation warden, now volunteers at the center.
“We want the whole fish and want to make sure they don’t have any lead sinkers or any hooks in them,” he said. “We still check them with a metal detector, but we want to make sure. It would be bad if we got a hook in her from a fish.
“They need all that for bone development,” he said. “It’s amazing. The digest the scales, the bones, the whole works.”
Much of Aly’s diet includes small panfish, including bluegills.
“One year, a guy brought a bunch of bowfin, but they were huge,” Young said. “She didn’t do well with them, but I ate them.”
Fish set aside for Aly are kept in a freezer at the center.
“We have the ones from the rough fish tournament, which was in July,” Young said. “We put a couple in a bag and freeze the whole thing.”
Aly, named after Fisher’s granddaughter, is used in the center’s educational programs.
“She came in in September 2018, so it’ll be four years this year,” Fisher said. “She got hit by a car just south of Waupaca. Her right wrist is all shattered and her feathers are really bad. She’s here for good and that’s why we need fish.”
Young also helps the center with osprey banding projects.
“We’ve been in osprey nests and they’re nice and clean,” he said. “They poop off the side of the nest, so they’re almost spotless. You go into an eagle’s nest and there are scales, pieces of fish, muskrats, ducks, you name it. And they stink.”
We Energies has worked with The Feather for years to provide osprey nests.
“They like that high perch so they can see a long way,” Young said. “We have less of those areas where they can nest. Utility poles are perfect for them. They will build a nest up there and then the branches land on the wires and cause problems. Utility companies not only help themselves out, but it helps the birds out, by putting up a large pole just a ways off so the bird can nest there and they’re off the lines. It’s safer for the birds and the community.
“We Energies out of Weyauwega has been fantastic,” he added. “They’ll go up in the bucket truck and bring the birds down. We band them and they take them back up.”
Wild osprey and eagles live along the Wolf River, which flows through Winneconne, Fremont, New London, Shiocton and Shawano.
“Eagles will prey on osprey nests,” Young said. “We have a lot of nests around New London, but we don’t have a lot of success because eagles will prey on the young. Down in Winneconne, we have a lot of osprey nests and a lot of success there.
“It depends on where you’re at,” he said. “Eagles want to eat, too, and apparently, ospreys must taste good.”
Fisher is confident the public will come through for Aly.
“She’s the fussiest bird we’ve ever had,” she said. “If she doesn’t like something, she’ll go days and days without eating. I just work here. She tells me what to do.”