Sunday, August 23 was a stellar day to be on the water: hot, sunny, and calm. Belwin Conservancy Operations Director Justin Sykora thought so too and was in his boat on the St. Croix River with his family near Bayport when he spotted some real-life nature drama.
On the shore were two osprey clearly battling it out. Bird One was on top, dragging a struggling Bird Two into the water and holding it under. Bird Two was most likely an interloper that got too close to Bird One’s nest, just a few yards away.
Justin brought his boat in for a closer look, which caused Bird One to fly off, screaming all the way. Bird Two dragged itself to the shoreline and slowly inched its way along the edge.
That’s when Justin called me to ask what, if anything, we should do to help Bird Two. Should we intervene in an altercation that happens in nature more often than we know? Why is this event different from rescuing a baby squirrel that has fallen out of a nest? Is it best to just let nature take its course? As humans, I think we always just want to help.
Because this magnificent bird is still threatened and endangered in some states, especially inland, and because the The Raptor Center is located in St. Paul, we decided to try and give this bird a chance.
I gathered up a box, a sheet, and leather gloves, and drove to Bayport.
I parked my car on the shoulder of St. Croix Trail just south of Bayport, jumped the guardrail, climbed down the poison ivy infested bank, crossed the railroad tracks, and ducked through the woods until I emerged on the shoreline, where I found the bird.
The osprey was wet and in shock. By moving slowly, I managed to cover the bird with a sheet and then carefully take it back to my car (watching out for its sharp talons the entire time!).
I called Jim Rue, a fellow Belwin naturalist and volunteer with The Raptor Center. We made a plan to meet and for Jim to transport the osprey to the center, where the bird would be examined and cared for. Fingers crossed and hope for the best went with the injured bird.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) are a familiar and frequent sight along the St. Croix River. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s this was not the case. A victim of pesticide poisoning, human persecution and habitat loss, these birds were in steep decline. Banning of DDT and other pesticides, as well as the creation of artificial nest structures and legal protection, have helped to make this raptor a conservation success story.
Would the bird we rescued survive? Fast forward three days and we learned that the injuries sustained in this battle were too much. Sadly, the osprey died.
Should we have just let nature take its course? We will never know what might have been. What we do know is this: We gave our best effort to help an iconic bird of prey in need, modeling the passion and dedication to the natural world that Belwin Conservancy is known for. You can’t really ask for more than that.