Thoughts on intervention…

We don’t have the faintest idea what happened to W7 to cause her injury. All we know is that she landed on the nest at 3pm last Thursday (28th July) and her right leg was not in a good way. We’ve seen her come and go over the past few days and now that she could be eating away from the nest it’s difficult to know how much food she’s taking on board. We do know that when she’s tried to eat on the nest we’ve seen her take less food than her sibling because she’s not as able to manoeuvre herself into a position to receive it from Mrs G. We can also see that when Aran leaves a fish on the nest she’s struggled to use her right talon to hold onto it. For many of us this is difficult to watch because we all know that she’s going to need food to recover from her injury and build up her strength for the long migration South in 4 – 5 weeks.

Seeing her struggle to eat is heart-wrenching, and these strong emotions can build to a point where we feel we have to do something about it. However, there are countless practical, ethical and legal reasons why we can’t launch into action and rescue an injured wild bird while it’s still on the nest. This is why we do not intend to intervene with W7 unless she falls to the ground and is not able to take-off. You see, it’s ok for W7 to injure herself and perhaps die in the process. But what’s not ok is for us to intervene and injure or kill her. Not only do we not want to do that, but it would pose some serious questions for an organisation responsible for protecting these wild birds.

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I know that this position is difficult for some of our readers to understand, so I’d like to take you through just some of the points that we would have to look at if we were to consider an intervention.

Setting aside for a moment the legal and ethical considerations of intervening with an injured Osprey and looking at what’s possible. Is it possible to catch W7? Yes, if we really wanted to we could catch W7. There are numerous ways to catch a large wild bird – all of which would cause her more distress and injury than she has already sustained. The question then is not whether it’s possible to catch her, the question is whether it’s possible to intervene without making things worse for her.

This is a far more difficult question. She is still able to fly, so she would certainly fly away the moment we approached her. The resulting disturbance would distress her and possibly lead to further injury. This distress and injury would not justify the attempt at intervention, so approaching her at this point is not an option.

In the above example we’ve weighed up the potential risks of intervening against any possible benefit of that intervention. This approach brings us to the very crux of any action we are likely to consider. It’s the only way we can objectively decide what is best for her and it’s the very same approach that other project managers use when they face similar issues.

 

Using this approach to address the situation with W7 leaves us with two questions:

  1. How can we intervene without making matters worse for her?
  2. What are the benefits, for her, of our intervening?

Can we intervene without hurting her?

Unlikely. As mentioned above, we can’t consider an intervention that will carry a risk of hurting her. We can only intervene if she is on the floor or so disabled by her injury that she won’t try to fly away or jump from the nest. In that latter case, we need to be aware that it’s almost impossible for us to know when she’s reached the point of disability where she wouldn’t try to escape. And we need to bear in mind that the closer we get to that point, the less likely it is that we would be able to do anything for her once we have her. By going up to her nest to fetch her there would always be a risk of hurting her. This is why we are extremely unlikely to climb up that tree. Our contingency plan is entirely focused on rescuing her from the ground, where we can handle her safely with very little risk of making matters worse.

What are the benefits of intervention?

I’ll be honest; I don’t feel particularly well qualified to answer this question. That’s why I’ve spent days phoning around and speaking with the experts to find out. The answer is complicated but we can concentrate on the fundamentals. W7 and W8 are due to start their migration south in the next 4 – 5 weeks. For W7 to retain any hope of remaining a wild bird any treatment of her would have to be minimal. She’d need to be back on her nest in a matter of days so that she could build up her strength for the long migration ahead. Any longer than that and we would be rapidly approaching the point where she ceases to be a wild bird. For me, this would be a worst case scenario; a wild bird in captivity for the rest of its life. It might please us to look at her, but what quality of life is there for a captive osprey?

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So what’s going to happen with W7? We honestly don’t know. Having discounted an intervention except in the most extreme circumstances, the only thing we can do is to hope for the best and to let nature run its course. We may also need to start preparing for the worst. That’s the entire reason for this post, I suppose; to prepare our followers for the worst. This doesn’t mean that we should lose hope, we just need to ready ourselves for the worst that nature can throw at us. And our followers need to be prepared for our response to it. As I’ve said before, we’re not a zoo and these birds aren’t our pets. We’re watching nature and nature isn’t always kind.

Now then, having dispensed with the doom and gloom, we shouldn’t forget that there is still a chance for W7 to recover. It wasn’t long ago that we were facing calls to rescue W8 when he suffered a minor limp, he’s now grown to be an exceptionally strong young Osprey. In the week since W7’s injury we’ve seen that she is a very determined bird. She’s been eating most days and she continues to fly around and perch on branches. To our horror, she’s even chosen to spend the worst night of the week being battered by the wind and rain out on the end of the perch, and she was still there in the morning. She may yet pull through.

Perhaps this is the strongest argument yet for non-intervention.