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What killed Nelson the osprey?

Osprey cam footage shows a male osprey, named Nelson, leaving his nest. Just after he takes off a loud boom is heard, he was not seen again and the mystery of 'What happened to Nelson?' began.

Contributed Nelson Hydro

The male member of the nesting pair of ospreys that went missing in Nelson June 20 was found dead in a nearby ravine. 

The mystery as to what caused the bird's untimely demise started when people watching a live streaming feed of the nest online noticed the 'dad', Nelson, was no longer around.

A person who had been watching the bird and its mate on the webcam reported to Castanet that they thought they heard a gunshot after Nelson left the nest, the live video feed also records sound. Shortly after the noise is heard the camera freezes. Rumours and suspicions abounded and comments were aired that the male had likely been shot.

In a chat that runs beside the live camera image, a user going by the name icecream247 said, "at this time, Nelson [the male osprey] was last seen on camera Thurs 6/19 in late evening - we have no idea where he is or if something has happened."

Castanet sent the audio recording to Ron Johnston, a firearms safety consultant in Penticton.

"I find it very hard to tell a gunshot in a recording. Other things sound like a gunshot and have the same effect on birds (i.e. could make them take off)," says Johnston.

Early in the morning of June 20, at 5:04, a power outage was reported on the Nelson Hydro Outage Line in the remote community of Grohman Creek, across the West Arm of Kootenay Lake from the nest site.

Nelson Hydro investigated the outage, completed a line patrol, and finding no reason for the fault, replaced the two 25amp line fuses that were blown. Service was restored around 8 a.m.

Weather was overcast with intermittent rain and some wind. The outage cause was inconclusive, but was initially attributed to possible conductor issues on a nearby long span during a brisk wind event.

The video cam that films this nest site is fed 120 volt power from this line, so it was out of service during this outage. On restoration of power, the camera powered up and female and chicks appeared normal and just as they were prior to the outage. However, the male remained missing throughout the weekend.

On Monday morning Nelson Hydro employees began to wonder if the missing male and the outage were related. That day a lineman did a close ground inspection under all but one very steep section of the power line that had the outage, but found nothing.

However, Nelson Hydro knew that 25 amp high-voltage fuses blowing sounds very similar to a shotgun shell being fired. 

That afternoon Nelson Hydro contacted a local raptor biologist and she confirmed that since several days had elapsed and still no male had shown up, it was almost certain that something happened to him. She indicated that the chicks would quickly become dehydrated unless they were fed, but that the female would be reluctant to hunt, thereby leaving the nest unprotected from predators and the chicks susceptible to chilling if wet.

The biologist and Nelson Hydro determined that supplying the nest with fish was the only acceptable intervention. The biologist had successfully supplemented fish to an osprey nest before, but there was no guarantee this female would accept fish delivered to her.

The Ministry of Environment would also have to approve any such intervention.

Nelson Hydro loaned the equipment and all work was done by volunteers. By Monday evening, frozen Kootenay Lake fish was thawing, and the team had received approval from the Ministry.

Mid-morning on Tuesday, fish were delivered into the nest using the largest bucket truck Nelson Hydro has. Both female and chicks ravenously fed on them. The biologist recommended bulk-supplementation every two days, so further efforts were made that afternoon to secure more fish for a Thursday feed, and to develop a less intrusive feeding method that would not require a large diesel bucket truck or keep the female off the nest for a protracted period.

Wednesday after work, a linesman volunteered to traverse the one span of nasty terrain that we had not yet been able to do a ground search on. He found the male bird dead in the bushes. He had been electrocuted when he flew into two high voltage phase wires that are energized at 25,000 volts. That is when the two line fuses blew, sounding like shotgun shells. Good provider that he was, he had a good size fish in his talons when he was found.

Nelson Hydro said it was "Certainly a very unfortunate ending, but it is impossible to eliminate the possibility of such an event occurring on occasion."

At 6:30 a.m. Friday a tray of fish was delivered up to the nest site. By 9 a.m., the female had fed herself and was feeding her chicks. 

All things proceeding well, the employees at Nelson Hydro are committed to try and keep these birds fed until they leave the nest or can otherwise feed themselves. This is expected to be approximately another 5 to 6 weeks.

Donations of frozen or fresh fish suitable for feeding would be gladly accepted at the Nelson Hydro Office reception at 80 Lakeside Drive between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. on week days.


Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

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