Two baby birds barely bigger than a ball of feathers have been reunited with their parents in a brand new home after they were rescued — smoky and singed — from their fiery nest in Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S., two weeks ago.
The reunion was a collaborative effort between firefighters, the Hope for Wildlife rescue organization, Nova Scotia Power and the Department of Natural Resources.
The fluffballs’ misadventure was likely sparked by an unlikely culprit — their parents.
Steve Stubbert, the captain at the fire station in Musquodoboit Harbour, said crews got a report of a utility pole on fire on June 26.
Ospreys often build their nests on top of power poles. It is generally not a problem unless more than one wire is touched at the same time, Stubbert says.
“At some point, with the nest complete and babies in the nest, they laid a stick across that made connection between two wires and that arced and caused the nest to catch on fire.”
Stubbert says the parents flew around frantically as the nest burned.
“Occasionally they would land in the nest, but could only stay in the nest for … a few seconds,” he says. “They didn’t seem to have the ability to lift the chicks out and do anything for them. So they were kind of helpless, even though they were trying their best to deal with it.”
Once Nova Scotia Power arrived to disconnect the electricity, crews removed the chicks from the nest, placed them in a box and handed them off to firefighters. They then had to destroy the ospreys’ flaming home.
Stubbert says he placed the birds in a quiet area of the fire station and tucked a blanket around them.
“They had lost a little bit of that little down type of feather that they have when they’re really young, got kind of singed off. So they had that kind of burnt hair smell.”
Someone from Hope for Wildlife arrived within the hour to take the babies under their wing.
Hope Swinimer, the rescue centre’s director, says the birds were only about two weeks old, since they still had their egg teeth, a small protrusion on the beak that helps them crack their egg so they can emerge.
The birds appeared to be uninjured, Swinimer says, and her team fed the chicks pieces of fish to help them gain weight and strength.
Meanwhile, staff with the Department of Natural Resources were busy constructing a new nest for the family, modelled as closely as possible on the old one.
Nova Scotia Power erected a new pole close to the old one, with a platform to house the nest. The new pole is solely for the use of ospreys and is not connected to power lines.
On Saturday morning, a Hope for Wildlife staff member placed the chicks in their new home, with the assistance of a bucket truck from Nova Scotia Power.
But everyone had one worry on their minds: what if the parents didn’t come back?
Kris Lambert, a wildlife technician with the Department of Natural Resources, spent the entire day monitoring the nest. He spotted the parents around 5 p.m., but they were ignoring the new nest, trying instead to rebuild on the charred pole.
“It was up and down. We were excited, nervous, anxious,” he says.
Eventually, around 7 p.m., the female parent perched on the nest for a few minutes, and by dusk that evening, she brought her chicks their first meal in their new home, then didn’t leave their side for the entire following day.
“Those parents stayed around and they didn’t hesitate when the babies came back,” says Swinimer. “It just shows you what an amazing bond there is between mom and babies of all species.”
Stubbert says he was surprised to find out how the chicks’ ordeal ended.
“I assumed that Hope for Wildlife would be able to take care of them and get them to the point where maybe they could survive on their own. But in no way did I expect that there would be a collaborative effort to get them back with their parents in the same area in a better-than-ever nest,” he says. “It was nice to see.”