Like plenty of their fellow northerners, ospreys -- which are fish-eating birds that resemble eagles -- tend to skip the frosty season and fly south.
Typically they use their wings.
One of these birds, however, soared to Fort Lauderdale aboard a private airplane. "He was a perfect passenger. He didn't make any noise. He didn't smell. He didn't do any back-seat flying," according to the good-natured pilot who volunteered to include the bird on an excursion with his wife from New Hampshire to Florida.
The young bird was hooked up with a private flight by the Cape Wildlife Center in New England, where it was recuperating nicely from a fractured wing. The osprey was wounded when its nest toppled during a summer storm.
The bird wasn't ready to be released from rehab because it can not fly. Its damaged feathers did not yet shed, allowing for healthy functional feathers to take their place.
Because these birds do better in roomy outdoor environments, the staffs at the New England facility and the South Florida Wildlife Center agreed the Fort Lauderdale sunshine was the place to be during the winter. Both wildlife facilities are affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States.
Since the raptor arrived in Fort Lauderdale November 3, it is hopping on his perches and eating on its own -- which is great for an osprey in captivity, said Dr. Renata Schneider, director of rehabilitation at the South Florida Wildlife Center.
The gender of the bird is not known, because it's not obvious from its appearance, she said. When it will be released --- if it's eligible for release -- is uncertain now. Until the broken and split feathers molt, rehabbers won't be able to determine if the healed wing is suitable for flying. When they molt is not predictable, Schneider said.
To arrange the flight for the bird, a volunteer at the Cape Wildlife Center worked to track down private pilot Drew Gillett, who occasionally includes an extra passenger when he and wife Barbara Deane-Gillett travel to Florida. Accommodating the bird's itinerary required to two extra stops along the way, but Gillett said he was happy to pitch in with the effort to assist the bird, who kept to itself in a sheet-covered crate in a back seat.
"It was another good way to utilitze the aircraft,'' Gillett said.
The pilot said he is going to keep tabs on the bird, and possibly would fly back to South Florida to be on site whenever the osprey is released.