This is the second and final part of a story about a south central PA Osprey pair. I believe they were new breeders. The nest they built was certainly new. They could have chosen a site anywhere along the Atlantic coast or the Chesapeake Bay, but they chose one here—in an area where they aren’t usually found.
We ended “Osprey Time” with descriptions of the pair defending their nest and noted that nest defense in the lives of breeding birds is more important than many of us realize. Here’s a close-up that gives us a better sense of what Ospreys go through and the dangers these open-nesting birds face. I took the photo on 6/18. To get an even better sense, multiply what you see here by a factor of 30 and include Great Horned Owls, Bald Eagles, American Crows, and a land predator or two.
This pair’s defense of their nest was especially intense. I’ve monitored a number of Osprey nests and have been around Ospreys a lot but have never seen anything like it. Here’s the female on 6/13 flying above me and trying to get me to leave. I described the interaction in “Osprey Time.” She did the same on another occasion, and I had to both hold up my photo gear and duck under a tree.
Alan Poole, author of the book Ospreys: A Natural and Unnatural History, describes almost losing an eye to a bird while checking its nest. But he describes others that were a lot tamer and that took his surveys in stride. He notes that his broad experience with Ospreys taught him that the birds are individuals with individual differences just like us. That’s a helpful way to look at all birds—or all animals, for that matter.
Below are a few Osprey “nesting facts,” courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Keep these in mind as we continue.
- Clutch Size: 1-4 eggs
- Number of broods: 1 brood
- Incubation Period: 36-42 days
- Nestling Period: 50-55 days
Keep these in mind, too. Fledged young are dependent on their parents for at least 10-20 days, even though some begin to catch fish on their own in just 3. Females begin to migrate as early as late August, while males, who stay on to provide food for their young, migrate as late as mid-October.
In the top photo, the female is on eggs. She began incubating on 5/10, and the clutch hatched on 6/20 (these are guesses). I don’t know the original clutch size, but I observed early on that there was only one chick in the nest. Ospreys generally have 2 or 3, but in this case, they either had 1, which is unlikely, or they had several, but some died. They could have died from sibling aggression, starvation, or predation.
Here’s my first photo of the chick. I took it on 7/6. It was a thrilling moment. The pair had brought new life into the world and achieved success despite the obstacles.
Here’s my 7/6 diary entry: “Visited in the evening. The male delivered a headless fish to the nest, and for the first time I observed the female feeding pieces of fish to a chick. I could just make out its head and beak. It appears from my photos that there’s only 1 chick in the nest. I provided a close-up of the interaction.”
On 7/29, I took this photo. I took it just before sunset and as a few rays hit the nest. You’d think I was using a strobe. The female had spotted me and was calling. Notice how the chick had grown.
Here’s my dairy entry for that day: “Visited before dark. Because of ongoing construction, I was able to get out on Rossmoyne Rd. (a major roadway and higher ground) and shoot. The chick is getting big and looks healthy.”
On the evening of 8/9, the female and chick were both in the nest. I was beginning to see the male less and less. I watched as the chick went up on the rim (first time I’d seen it there) and vacuated. We could call that an exciting moment, too, but it didn’t rival what I saw 5 days later. Here’s that diary entry, followed by a photo: “Visited this evening and stayed for half an hour. I no sooner arrived and had my gear in place than I looked at the nest and watched as the juvenile started to flap and at one point go airborne. Its parents weren’t around. The bird did this for about 5 minutes before it settled back down and rested.” Osprey chicks spend a lot of time exercising their wings before fledging.
This photo shows it landing, but one I took the next day showed it in midair as the male looked on from the side. We’ve seen the photo of the 2 of them together, but this is a crop of the bird alone. My diary entry included the words, “any day now.” I was getting excited about the thought of the bird fledging.
And it did just that in the next few days. When I visited on the morning of 8/20, the chick was in the nest. But as I was busy photographing other wildlife, the bird flew to a nearby utility pole, where it stayed before returning.
A few days later, I captured it in the dead tree that had fallen into the farm pond. Shortly after it saw me, it gave some soft alarm calls before returning to the nest. The nest is the center of activity for Ospreys and also the home base for newly fledged young. They may leave, but they return to it again and again before dispersing and migrating. Notice the white feather tips and orange eyes.
I captured the juvenile a few times after that, but it was always in or near the nest or perched somewhere else. I remember being concerned I might not get a good flight shot. Then when I visited on the evening of 8/25, I got my chance. The bird was in the nest, but a close-flying Red-tailed Hawk spooked it, and it dove. While it was in flight, it carried fish that had been given to it earlier. It flew around in a chaotic kind of way for a while, but then returned. It was soon joined by the female.
As August came to an end and September rolled around, I saw less and less of the adults. But I noted on 8/28 that they were still there, and that the chick was still dependent on them for food. Then from 9/3 to 9/5 there were no signs of anything but the chick. And that was the case going forward. And though I was convinced the chick would stick around for a while, it left sometime during the day on 9/8 and hasn’t been seen since. Here’s one of my last shots of it and another taken just before sunset. Even though it had fledged just a few weeks earlier, it was already flying and landing like a pro. That gave me hope it would soon forage like one, too, and that it would make it without difficulty to its wintering grounds.
And This Just In
As many of you know, I’ve started to take photos of a male Belted Kingfisher. He’s laid claim to the farm pond and is there now every time I visit. I’d like to think we’ve forged a connection of some sort, but I’m not sure he sees things that way. We’ll explore this human-bird relationship, and I’ll share more photos of him in the next blog—so please stay tuned.
Quip, Question, Quote
I thought it might be time for this wonderful quote again. If it’s helpful, replace “camera” with “binoculars.” “Every once in a while, please put your camera down and soak in the majesty of your environment. Take a deep breath, scan the horizon, look at the animals with your eyes, heart and soul, and realize how truly blessed you are to be living this incredible experience.” Ken Kaminesky
Thank you for reading.