Thursday, June 22, 2017

Following an Osprey Nest

Ospreys have made a dramatic return to the Finger Lakes where the fishing can be very good. They are a graceful bird that is fun to watch.

A favorite nest site is the top of an electric pole.   If the pole has double crossbars, Osprey can erect a pretty stable structure.  Last fall I was on a bicycle trip with friends along a local river with no thought to birding; I looked off the elevated road to find an Osprey nest in the field below.  The road's elevation put me right at eye level to a nest. Usually nests are too high to see into. I made a note in my calendar and went back in early March.  There was a lone male Osprey beginning to rebuild the nest with new sticks.

Through March, I returned to see if he had found a mate.  He would call "Pee-Pee-Pee-Pee-Pee" with added excitement if the passing bird was another Osprey.  He got no takers.  By April, I wondered if he lacked charisma and I checked less often. Returning on May 14, I spied a female in the nest.  Finally!

On May 26, I could finally see a tiny head in the nest of sticks. Below you can see the female deep in the nest just after the male brought in a small fish.  The chick's head is the little dark object at the female's bill.  How many chicks?  I could finally see a head with my binoculars.  This is getting interesting.

The pair's duties are pretty well divided.  She is on the nest nearly always, and he is fishing for the next meal or perched nearby on guard.   As I watched the nest, I wondered what would happen to the remains in the nest.  It was answered maybe fifteen minutes later when the male returned (without another catch), and within a few minutes carried the rest of the bullhead away.  They've got the details figured out.

 Two weeks later, the chicks were considerably larger.  And, I could see three.  Beautiful!

You may wonder how I can be so sure of which is male or female.  See below the two adults on the nest.  The female is always larger, and the size difference is pretty substantial. 

Observation tells me that the female runs the show.  When the chicks are hungry, and the male is perched nearby, she rather emphatically tells him to get fishing.  Yesterday, when he flew over the  nest with no catch, her calls were almost to the alarm volume.  His duty is catching a fish.

In the photo above, the male had just brought in a fish and she is  inspecting it.  (Note the chick just in front of her legs.)  She moved it to the right side of the nest.  That seems to be her feeding station.  Seen below, the male quickly leaves to resume his fishing.

Now it is time to feed the chicks.  It seemed to follow a pecking order, with the dominate chicks always getting fed first.  The third chick seemed to rarely get much.

Occasionally, the female does fly away.  Twice, it has been to return in only a few minutes with fresh nest material.  Yesterday, she returned with what looked like dead corn shucks.

I wish I could close with images of the young Ospreys testing their wings and taking a first flight, but my calendar commitments suggest I will miss those moments unless their timing goes a bit slow.  I wish them a successful first flight.  Hopefully they will survive the year to begin their own nesting.  I'll never tire of capturing an Osprey in flight.