The old cotton-ball trick saves osprey

Rehabbers learned about the technique at a conference recently — and it really worked
By Mark Freeman
Mail Tribune

See article on Mail Tribune Website

MERLIN — Ten cotton balls and some smooth handiwork by wildlife rehabilitators sent a young osprey to freedom Wednesday.

Workers at Wildlife Images Rehabilitation Center in Merlin successfully removed a fish hook that had become lodged in the osprey’s stomach by force-feeding the bird cotton balls.

The 10 cotton balls created a “pellet” that the young bird would eventually regurgitate. And what came out of the cotton-mouthed bird a day later included — you guessed it — the offending hook.

“It’s exactly like it sounds,” says Amber Lynn Daniel, the center’s marketing coordinator. “It’s like force-feeding any other animal. You do it very carefully and with a lot of teamwork.”

The osprey was released Wednesday where it was found — near its nest site close to the intersection of Upper River Road and Lower River Road along the banks of the Rogue River near Merlin.

It’s the first time Wildlife Images rehabbers have used this technique, which has proven successful in removing fish hooks from pelicans. Wildlife Images staff learned about it recently at a wildlife rehabbers conference, Daniel says.

The case began July 29 when someone discovered the osprey had fallen out of its nest. At the rehab center, the bird appeared a bit thin but otherwise healthy.

A routine x-ray to look for lead revealed the large hook embedded in its digestive tract, Daniel says.

In the past, Wildlife Images would have relied on invasive surgery to cut the hook out, Daniel says. But the cotton-ball technique, sans knife, was tried first.

Within two days of its arrival, the cotton balls and hook were out and the bird was on the mend, Daniel says.

“When this osprey came across our doorstep, this was the first opportunity to try this technique and, thankfully, it was successful,” Daniel says.

Daniel says there’s no way to know for sure how the fish-eating osprey ingested the hook, and the bird’s not talking.

“We can only assume it ingested a fish that had a hook in it,” Daniel says.

This is the third osprey to be rehabbed at Wildlife Images so far this year, Daniel says. Center staff successfully removed a fish hook imbedded in an adult osprey living at Grants Pass’s All Sports Park and returned it to the park, she says.

A gray fox nicknamed “Tripod” is scheduled to get the same sort of send-off today, but a little short on limbs.

The 3-year-old animal came to Wildlife Images in May and was diagnosed with rodenticide toxicity, likely caused by eating a rodent that had eaten rat poison.

Vitamin K treatments put the fox on the road to recovery, and while convalescing at the center she fostered several juvenile foxes there this summer, Daniel says.

During its recovery, however, x-rays revealed a short tendon on its right rear leg that did not hurt the animal, Daniel says. But the injury could have caused the animal to become entangled or injured after its release, so rehabbers chose to amputate the leg, Daniel says.

Mark Freeman: 776-4470, or e-mail