Operation osprey

Tangled in twine and dangling out of its nest near the Spokane River, a baby osprey panicked as a team of Avista crews gingerly rescued the injured bird from a nest atop a power pole. From the street below, Jill Ham, an Avista employee who put this rescue mission into flight, watched with worry, hoping the bird would survive and make the long journey to medical treatment in North Idaho.

“It happened so fast. Once they got up there. It was like less than a minute. It was like they were trained to do it. They were so good,” said Jill Ham, Distribution Operations Engineer with Avista.

Just a few hours earlier, Jill received a call from Birds of Prey Northwest in St. Maries, Idaho, asking for help to rescue the injured osprey. An eagle-eyed neighbor had been watching the nest for a few weeks and noticed the bird tangled in twine, abandoned by its parents weeks ago, and relying on a sibling for bits and pieces of fish and other finds.

“So, I walked over to Distributions Operations and asked ‘can we get a crew to an osprey?’ and they said, ‘sure,’” said Jill.

Before heading out to the nest, Jill emptied a box of coffee cups in the break room to transport the bird for treatment more than an hour away.

Birds have always had a soft spot in Jill’s heart. When a baby robin needed help a few years ago, she hand-fed the animal until it could eat independently, she even brought it to work in a cage to keep a close eye on the hatchling.

And then there’s the time Jill and her husband found a baby osprey in the middle of the road near Priest River. They called Birds of Prey for help, and that bird eventually recovered and returned to the wild.

“I have a thing for birds. I don’t do well when I see an animal injured. But any creature can be defenseless. So if I see a dog wandering the road that looks lost, I’ll stop and pick them up,” said Jill.

Last week, when Avista crews reached the osprey, now named Bobbie, they quickly cut the twine and gently placed him into the box. Then, Jill hopped in her car with Bobbie in the backseat and drove the 60 miles to Birds of Prey, where founder Jane Veltkamp was waiting.

“The baling twine damaged his leg. He had been wrapped up for many weeks. We’re hoping his function will return, but only time will tell,” said Jane Veltkamp.

For 30-years, Jane and a team of dedicated volunteers have rescued thousands of osprey, eagles, owls, and other birds of prey from across our region. This year alone, they’ve treated 250 birds, about 100 more than last year because of the record summer heat.

Jane is hopeful Bobbie will make a full recovery. He’ll stay under her care until the spring, when, if he’s ready, he’ll spread his wings and soar above the Inland Northwest.

“He’s got a strong spirit and a strong will to live. And the only way he could have survived is by the Avista crew cutting him free,” said Jane.

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