Thursday, September 13, 2012

Apologies and Explanations

I apologize for the long silence here. I had a serious health crisis that required surgery and that sidelined me for some time this summer. I could not drive, but was lucky enough to have a number of people drive me around to visit the nests during my early convalescence. I managed to keep the Facebook page going with short updates thru this period ( "Twin Cities Metro Osprey Watch" on FB). I only missed about ten days to two weeks of activity on most nests. I am on my way to full recovery now and am driving and visiting nests as much as I can to determine final outcomes. I do have a few holes and questions which may remain unanswered. I have witnessed some exciting and unusual behaviors and will be writing more about that later. I believe I have the topic for my next research paper!
Here is a more recent post from the FB page:
As the season changes, so do the behaviors. I am visiting nests for final outcomes, searching for the juveniles and adults. I often find those males perched somewhere high in their territory, looking out for their offspring, snoozing, being there in case some youngster comes back to the nest screaming in desperate hunger...and those that do, are usually females. I watch the males drop a fish and get the heck out of there quickly. I observed a young osprey flying with a young redtail...both were flipping and turning and divebombing...but somehow it did not seem aggressive. No alarm calls, just seemed like playful practicing of their aerial manuevers. It was fun to watch. I am still finding some chicks on or near the nests, adult females are harder and harder to find...some have not been seen since the third week of August now. Male chicks seem to disperse from their natal territory more quickly than females. Its a wistful time of year for is less interesting without Ospreys around to watch. I will keep searching, every free day I have until I cannot find any more Ospreys. I appreciate the reports that are still coming in from volunteers. Thank you all SO much.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

final sad news

Sadly I recieved emails today from Lori Arent and Dr Julia Ponder at The Raptor Center and the  surviving osprey chick had to be euthanized after showing neurologial symptoms (seizures). She had just endured too much heat with too little food. There is really not much else to say. Very sad news.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

update to sad story

The sad news today is that the chick is not doing very well. I am not surprised, considering the length of time they were left up there without parents. (approx ten days in extreme heat). I tried my best to watch over them and stimulate some action. I care so much for each of these chicks that to lose any like this is painful to me. I watched them suffering and shared my observations every day with those in charge of the rescue at Three Rivers Park District.  Please keep your fingers crossed for this little chick...lets hope for a miracle.

This update is from Dr Ponder at The Raptor Center :
"the one surviving chick had a tough night and is struggling this morning. Not surprising given its weakened condition and a pretty stressful day yesterday - while we were pleasantly surprised at its appearance when it presented, once the stress hormones abated, the chick was pretty down and out. The next 24 hours will be very telling as we see if the chick has enough reserves to respond to treatment.
Relative to the adults, the best hypothesis (and an extremely strong one) is that the tower was hit by lightning while they were perched on it, resulting in acute, simultaneous death. The birds' bodies showed clear evidence of extensive electrical burns. Given the sources of electricity (or relative lack thereof) at the top of the cell tower, the only logical source was lightning. The towers are engineered extensively to withstand such a thing, so it is within reason to consider that it was hit, the birds electrocuted and no other significant signs occurred. He also answered my bigger question of how the chicks could survive in that situation (twigs would not be near enough insulation against a lightning bolt) . Given how the nest was suspended within the structure and the composition of the tower, he suggested it basically acted like a Faraday cage or shield (similar to being in your car during a lightening strike)."

Hoping for better news tomorrow...

sad story

There has been a sad story evolving on an Osprey nest on a cell tower in the western suburbs. A pair of adults were seen lying dead on the side of the cell tower and there were three chicks alive in the nest. A rescue was organized about 5 days after the adults were presumed to have died, permits were acquired, but at the last minute Three Rivers Park District wildlife staff decided not to proceed with the intervention. They saw another adult landing on the nest and were hoping they would feed the chicks. It is unusual for an Osprey to feed chicks that are not their own, although I have seen it happen on several occasions, usually when the male died and the female was left alone caring for chicks. These few males undertook this feeding as a way to secure a mate and a territory, so it was an investment in the future. I went and visited the nest to watch and see if the chicks were getting fed. On my first visit there were 3 chicks and I saw a male drop one fish for the chicks. There was a great deal of aggression between the chicks as they fought for the food. The next time I visited the nest I could only see two chicks. It appeared that we had lost one already. The temps were unusually high during this period, reaching 99 on some days. It is hard for chicks to stay hydrated without enough food in that kind of weather. I did see a male drop one small fish during  that visit also, but it was clearly not enough to sustain them. Every time I visited the nest I shared my observations with Three Rivers Park District. I recommended that the intervention be put back into action but I recieved no response. On my third visit the two chicks were laying down and seemed lethargic. One of them never got up and seemed to lift its head only occasionally and beg for food. The other was stronger and got up and walked around briefly. Again I shared my observations with the park district and asked about the rescue plans. I got no response. On my fourth visit I found no chicks and the dead bodies of the adults were gone. I recieved an email on my Facebook page telling me that a rescue was done and there was only one chick alive. The parents were determined to have died from electrocution. The one surviving chick is at The Raptor Center to be fed and hydrated. It is hoped that it can recover and be put on another nest as a foster chick. It is a difficult time in a chicks life for this kind of thing to happen as she is approaching fledging age. I have my fingers crossed for her. She is in good hands at the Raptor Center. Thanks to them and the American Tower company for intervening in this tragic situation.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Two females!

Very interesting day in the field! The first nest I went to had TWO females on it! They were co exisiting peacefully...both were food begging tho I saw no male nearby. One was incubating ( the female who I have been watching there since April) and the other, perched on the nest edge. I tried to figure out what was going on.
The new female went into the nest cup and sat down right next to the other female, bumping her, pushing right up next to her. Odd.
Then she got up and started moving sticks. They both kept food begging loudly. The resident female got up and looked into the nest cup and appeared to be tending to chicks as the other female watched. After about 30 minutes of me scratching my head, the resident female looked at this other female, with her head cocked to the side...and she stood up, went over to the other female and chest bumped her off the nest. No real aggression, but a definite message to get lost. It was crazy! No male ever arrived and the resident female quit food begging after the other female visitor left. I guess they were food begging from each other! Another unusual behavior...what a year! I also counted a lot of chicks heads, including some wee ones, and watched a lot of feedings. Great day. Wish I had a video camera to document those two females!

Sunday, May 27, 2012


This photo was taken several years ago when I had to clear some twine out of a nest. They are one week old Osprey chicks.

Once again all the field work takes so much time I do not get around to posting info for people to read. The chicks are beginning to hatch and I have been able to see chicks already on a few nests. They usually are not visible until they are at least one week to ten days old. I have seen their tiny beaks reaching up for food and some sibling rivalry, establishing the "pecking order", literally! There is a phase when they do peck at each other and determine the dominant chick and subordinate chicks. This order is usually followed during feedings. I have never seen siblicide, but it has been reported in the literature. Ospreys are generally not very aggressive birds and most Osprey chicks do survive the sibling rivalry. There are so many interesting behaviors at this time. Today I noticed one male was sitting on the nest perch, with a perch! He was eating, but he stopped every few bites and looked at the female sitting in the nest...checking for a signal that she wanted food. She sat quietly for a while and then she stood up and he went to the nest immediately with his fish. Oddly, she picked up a whole fish off the nest and flew off...but returned very quickly without the fish. I believe she was discarding an old fish. ( This male must be a very good provider if they are discarding fish!)  She then took the fresh fish from the male and began taking small bites and leaning into the nest cup and offering it to the chicks. I could not see the chicks, but this is how we can determine that hatching has occured, by observing this feeding behavior. The male sat on the nest edge and watched, staring into the nestcup. Now incubating turns to brooding, and the difference can be hard to determine. I have seen so many hatches for 19 years that I do get a sense of what is going on quite quickly...the restlessness, rocking and wiggling of the female, a slight change in the body posture, staring down as she sits, getting up part way to peek beneath. The male will often stand on the nest edge waiting for a look at the chicks. This morning as I was waiting for a clue from one female, she stood up and carefully picked up  a beautiful half of an osprey eggshell and moved it to the side! So, we have more Ospreys than we did a week ago! Yeah!

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Its been an interesting week! I have received several financial donations, one from an anonymous donor and the other from Sally Donart. I am so deeply grateful for this generous support. This will allow me to fill the tank, visit more nests and gather more data. I cannot express how much these donations mean to me. I have not established this project as a non profit, as that costs money too. I am hoping to find an established non profit organization who would like to take me under their wing as a sub project. (Any ideas?)
I  also investigated a problem nest on an active power pole and shared my insights on Osprey behavior with Xcel Energy. It appears that the problem is now resolved. I appreciate  Xcel  Energy's interest in doing the right thing when the Ospreys begin building nests on their structures.
So once again I say, THANKS to the donors and to Xcel Energy!
Sadly, we have reached the point in the nesting season where it appears that some nests are starting to fail. I visited a nest that had been incubating for the past few weeks but  I found the female struggling with a large piece of landscape fabric that they hauled up there. She tugged and pulled and pushed and tucked and yet it remained in the way. She did not sit in incubating posture the entire time I was there (almost an hour). I am wondering if the eggs are under the fabric. I hate it when they do stupid things. But Ospreys are known for picking up odd stuff to line their nests...over the years we have found hats, gloves, a lanyard with keys on it, an arrow, twine (lots of killer twine), plastic bags, etc.
I found another nest totally empty. No clue about what happened there, tho I am not sure they laid eggs at all. With well over 80 nests to monitor, its hard to visit as often as I would like.
I have identified 79 birds by their bands so far, with a few difficult birds still elluding my prying eyes.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I am sorry I have not found time to post much here lately. Please check the facebook page if you are on FB...there are more frequent posts there. I realize that many people are not on Facebook however, so I will share some of those posts here also.  I have been very busy doing the early season fieldwork. I have identified 72 Ospreys by their bands so far. Many nests are incubating now. The earliest hatching will probably occur in the third week of May. 
We are heading into one of the more ho hum phases of the Osprey nesting season...incubation. The books say they incubate for 35-43 days. Many years ago I concluded, on nests where I knew exactly when they laid eggs and when they hatched, that the incubation period in Minnesota is usually 39 days ( if the first eggs hatches). The researchers studying Ospreys in Pennsylvania came up with the same number. Most older pairs are on eggs now, tho some of the newer pairs are still courting and establishing territories. This is often the time when I discover new nests, so do keep your eyes open and let me know about any new nesting activity you might observe
Sometimes Ospreys that are not physiologically old enough to breed return and try to establish a territory. I was watching one of them yesterday...a 2 yr old female with an older male. I have never seen a 2 year old lay eggs. Typically these young females are unreceptive to copulation, which seemed to be the case at this nest. Often these females do act dependant upon the males for feeding, but this one was getting her own fish and when he tried to offer her a fish, she said "no thanks, I already have my own". So they were just engaging in parallel feeding...eating side by side in a tree, and she was going off on her own and he was bringing sticks to the nest. I did not see her working on the nest yesterday and I did not see any copulations. When he tried to mount her, she did not lift her tail. So we call them "housekeepers"...if they just hang out together in this territory, but do not reproduce. We will see what happens!
I have documented 2 year old males who attended nests where chicks did hatch, even tho it was previously believed that they were physiologically incapable of reproducing. I co authored a paper on the topic of 2 year old Ospreys and extra pair copulation that was published in the Journal of Raptor Research. I discovered that many ospreys were engaging in extra pair copulations, and that the females that were mated with these young males may have participated in copulations outside the pair bond. This may have explained the chicks that were being tended by these young males.
If you have any questions about Ospreys, please feel free to post it! I love to respond to your inquiries!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I just discovered an article posted online about me and the Twin Cities Metro Osprey Watch. Here is the link:

This reporter originally contacted me for information regarding the Ospreys nesting at Coon Rapids Dam. He was writing about asian carp and the possibility of Ospreys carrying them upstream. One thing led to another and this article is the result. Hope it will stimulate some more interest in these birds and the research we are trying to do.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Many people ask why it is important to monitor these Osprey nests. This is a labor of love, driven by passion, to learn more about these magnificent birds of prey. They are an indicator species and therefore their status reveals much about the health of our environment. Because Ospreys eat primarily fish for their entire lifetime, they are vulnerable to chemicals that are present in the water and ...can accumulate in their bodies. Any drop in their productivity can be a red flag to us, and therefore their population needs to be monitored carefully. The productivity dropped last year so its important to follow up this year to see if this is a trend. Of course there are normal ups and downs to their productivity, but it is the long term trends that we are interested in.
Eagles are monitored quite carefully and blood samples analyzed, but they eat things other than fish so may not be as affected by contaminants as Ospreys are.  Since Ospreys are a large bird that nests in the open, they are fairly easy to monitor, so I am hoping to continue this work and find interested people to assist with this research.
 I remember years ago meeting with Harrison "Bud" Tordoff, the well known University professor who was so instrumental in the Peregrine project. He urged us to monitor and band as many Osprey nests as we possibly could, for as long as we possibly could, as long as there were people willing to do this work. He pointed out that we cannot always know what we are researching for, but if we continued to collect the data, in hindsight it might be extremely valuable. I am trying, Bud!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Interesting few days. Some nests are eerily quiet and empty...ones that have had long term residents. Some people expected the Ospreys to return early due to the warm spring, but Ospreys migrate to South and Central America for the winter and have no idea what the weather is like here. They leave on their spring migration as a response to the amount of  daylight. Of course they did  not run into snow and frozen lakes south of here so I expected we might see them a few days early, but not weeks early. Many returned at the normal time. The empty nests may be a result of something else...and that makes me continue this research. Today I was observing two nests that had new males on them. Different behaviors on each of them. On one nest I noticed that the male was very calm and not defensive...sitting very close to the female, side by side touching their wings, basking in the warm afternoon sunshine and snoozing a bit. I wondered if he was from a nest that had a lot of human activity because he was not concerned about my presence at all. I read his band and, yes, he was from a nest that is near an elementary school. The other pair I observed were having a little more difficulty with their new partnership. The male had a fish and did not offer it to the female...he went to a tree to eat and ignored her. When several other Ospreys showed up and were flying and chirping above, he flew up and started a sky dance, which is a courtship behavior, as if to say "she is mine" to the other ospreys...and perhaps to say to her, "pick me". He still did not share his fish. He later went and got another fish...ate part of it and then went to the nest to give it to her and she immediately flew away, rejecting his offer. We will see what happens.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

For those of you following the saga of the freeway nest and that female, J4...She has a mate! There was a male on the nest today and he is unbanded. He does not display any of the defensive postures of a new male so is probably the male from last year but I will have to dig out the drawings I make of the distinct markings on unbanded birds. Any way, her long wait is over. Good news. Other birds are waiting and some nests are still empty. As reports roll in, I am very busy checking nests and reading bands, training new volunteers. The miles I put on my old car is crazy. This is what  passion does to you...but I truely want to know what is going on out there and to answer the many questions I still have about these birds.
What is it about them that is so captivating? Wish I had more time and money to do the research I really want to do.

Monday, April 9, 2012

As I promised in the past post, here is a description of what "hacking" is, for those who are unfamiliar with the word. It is a term that is originally from falconry and is a method for soft release, usually of a young preflighted bird.
In the case of the osprey reintroduction, we collected young ospreys from northern Minnesota at about 5to 6 weeks of age. At that time they are old enough to know they are ospreys ( no threat of imprinting) but cannot fly. They were put into "hack boxes", which were large 6'x6' boxes with hardware cloth around the outside and a roof on top.This served to protect them from predators  The boxes were placed high on some scaffolding to simulate their natural nesting habitat. We built a nest inside the box for the chicks to lay in. They were hand fed twice each day and they spent time looking out at the world surrounding them to become aclimated to their new home.  They exercised their wings and learned to rip and tear a whole fish. As they began to show the developmental signs of being ready to fly we originally opened one side of the box for them to fly. This unfortunately left the ones who were not ready vulnerable to predation. So I developed a way to release them individually by taking them to the roof of the box in a box or duffle bag and we let them slowly step out of the box. We had perches up there for them and a big plate full of fish so they understood that this was the place to return to for food. It worked every time. They would sit for a while and eventually take flight when ready. They returned to eat several times a day and would often congregate on top of the box and food beg. I was one of the hack site attendants, and the sound of that chorus of hungry young ospreys was a delight to hear as I rounded the bend with a 5 gallon pail of fish for them.Ospreys will return to the place where they learned to fly when ready to breed. This is the process that was used to restore Ospreys as a nesting species to the Twin Cities.  Most of the birds on our nests now are wild hatched but there is still one hacked male alive at 19 years of age.
This is the rest of the story of purple banded J4 from Iowa, the freeway nest occurred to me that many of you like to hear these life stories of various Ospreys. In my last post I touched on some of J4's history, so here is the rest, the prequel! She initially came to nest on that very tall freeway light in 2005. She was with a banded male whose band was not read...not for lack of trying tho! During the incubation period he was observed having difficulty breathing and struggled to haul sticks up to the nest. He would gasp for air in a behavior that is called "gaping". Its not a good sign. Raptors are vulnerable to an illness called aspergillosis, which is a fungal lung disease which can be stress related. Don't know if this was his problem. At any rate he disappearred after I observed his difficulties and he was presumed dead. This left J4 incubating those eggs alone with no male to bring her fish. She food begged loudly everytime another Osprey flew by and eventually she did attract another male, KM ( hatched on the Arsenal nest in 2001). He was interested in copulating and would eventually bring her a fish , but when she left the nest with the fish to eat, he would not sit on those eggs which were not his. The eggs were left uncovered too much and they died. So the nest failed that first year, but KM and J4 did bond and remained together at that nest though the 2010 nesting season. They produced 13 chicks together. Sadly last year, he did not return. J4 returned from her long migration to her nest being gone and no mate. She did find a new unbanded male and they settled at the nestpole near Gleason Rd and 62 on Creek Valley Elementary School grounds and dealt with all the stresses of that nest site as described in the earlier post. And now she is alone again and we are waiting to see if she can find another mate or if her unbanded male will eventually show up. Because she was hacked out ( I will describe the hacking process in another post) in the Iowa reintroduction project, she is more accustomed to humans than some other Ospreys and seems able to handle the activity level at that site, but not all Ospreys will. Hope she can find a male who is tolerant of people. Wish her luck!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Many of you may have heard about the Osprey nest that was on the freeway lights near 62 and 169 in Edina that was removed by the DOT in Dec 2010. That pair moved to a new not-so-great nest nearby where they were hounded by the sandblasting and painting of a nearby water tower, and people playing tennis at the courts beneath them last summer. They managed to fledge three chicks in spite of it all. Well that female is back and has been sitting there alone now since March 28. I got a report of a second osprey there but I visited the nest twice yesterday and again this morning and she was alone.
Hope she attracts some handsome young Osprey soon. She is ten years old this year and was originally hacked out in a reintroduction project in Iowa. In her prime.
Osprey season is in full swing now and I have spent most of the past week visiting nests and reading bands. I have identified 29 ospreys by their bands already. There are pairs on many nests, a single bird still waiting on some and a few nests which are still empty. Its early still and there will be much interesting behavior to come in the next few weeks. I have discovered many instances of extra pair copulation in a species that was believed to be "mostly monogamous", according to the literature. The nest swapping and mate swapping is fascinating and requires me to read bands early and often to document much of this movement. I was lucky to witness a fishing Osprey today...hovering above the water and plunging feet first into the water with a big splash and coming out with a large fish. His partner has  not been seen yet so he had the luxury of eating the whole fish himself, as I read his band!
One of the problems with this activity of reading bands is that it apparently looks suspicious. The police were called again on me yesterday...and when I explained what I was doing he was nice about it and told me just to stay on the side of the road...unfortunately that was not close enough to read that particular band so I will need some permission to trapse onto private property. I always wonder who called the police anyway? It happens to me every year...a few times. I will not be deterred from my goal of reading ALL bands tho! I read 79 of them last year.

camouflaged chicks

This photo shows how well camouflaged the chicks are by their juvenile coloring. Every dark feather has a buff colored tip which breaks up their profile and causes them to "disappear" in the nest. They cannot fly at this age ( aprox 5-6 weeks) so their only defense is to "pancake", which is what they are doing.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

I have always loved the outdoors and became very interested in raptors many years ago. I remember vividly the first time I ever saw an Osprey.  As I was doing some late spring cross country skiing in central Idaho, a large bird flew over the Salmon River and a companion identified it as an Osprey. Several  years later,  I was searching for Eagles in Montana, and many people directed me to the north end of Flathead Lake. Most of the large raptors there, however, were Ospreys not Eagles! As I was watching these magnificent birds, I followed one up a river and watched as he plummeted feet first  into the water right in front of my eyes, completely submerging and coming out with a large trout, getting lift off out of the water and heading to a perch to eat. It took my breath away and stirred something deep in my heart. The addiction had begun!

When I returned to Minnesota , after years of living out west, I volunteered on the Osprey Reintroduction Project at Hennepin Parks in 1994. My degree in art had made me very visually aware and I seemed to notice things about these birds that other volunteers did not. As a result, I was hired as the hack site attendant on the reintroduction in 1995. ( At that time the project was a joint effort between Hennepin Parks and The Raptor Center and I was hired by TRC.) I was offered an opportunity  to try to fist train a captive, permanently disabled Osprey at The Raptor Center the same year, something that had never been done  there before.  Ospreys are known for being difficult to keep alive in captivity and they are not as easily trained as some other raptors.  But I bonded with the pair of Ospreys there, Stan and Ollie, and had great success training them to eat on my fist and to tolerate being around large groups of people for education purposes. I received a Special Achievement award from TRC for that work  in 1996. Sadly, Stan got a severe case of bumblefoot  and had to be euthanized, but I continued to work with Ollie for four years. I  worked as  wildlife Technician at Three Rivers Park District ( formerly named Hennepin Parks) from 1997-2008, with my primary duties being  The Osprey Project ( monitoring all nests in 8 counties, supervising volunteers, banding chicks and writing annual reports).  In 1998 I traveled to Michigan to serve as a consultant on their Osprey reintroduction project and I met the well known Osprey researcher, Sergej Postupalsky.  We were kindred spirits and have remained in touch ever since, sharing our observations, discussing  research methods , terminology, outcomes and sharing our annual reports every year. He has been a great source of inspiration  for me. (He has been studying Ospreys in Michigan for 50 years!) It was through these conversations that he encouraged me to write a paper about my  field work which had revealed many interesting behaviors which had not been documented previously in this population.  This culminated in the paper “Two-Year-Old Nesting Behavior and Extra Pair Copulation in a Reintroduced Osprey Population”, Journal of Raptor Research, Volume 42, Number 2, June 2008 ( co-authored with Judy Englund). The following year another paper was published “Migration routes, reproduction and lifespan of a translocated Osprey”, Wilson Journal of Ornithology, volume 121, Number 1, March 2009 (co-authored with Sergej Postupalsky and William Stout). In 2008 I had to leave  the park district, for many complicated reasons, and I created the Metro Osprey Watch program to continue monitoring all nests and pursue the research on Osprey behaviors.  I have many topics I am researching including productivity, extra pair copulation and mate fidelity, nest site fidelity and movement among nests, age of first breeding,  population expansion etc…

Why am I starting this blog? I have been studying the Ospreys in the metro area since 1994. I have become more and more passionate about these birds and the research that is being done about them. I love to share my observations and my knowledge about them and love finding kindred spirits who care about them. I am excited about what I am learning regarding their behaviors and realize that I need a forum to share some of it. I am also concerned about their survival, the impact that global climate change and environmental contaminants may have upon their population. They are considered to be an indicator species so their health reveals much to us about the health of our environment.  They are a species that exists on all continents except Antartica.  I also have come to realize, sadly, that there is a great deal of misinformation about them being passed along disguised as “science”.  I hope to create a conversation, share observations, raise concerns, connect with other Osprey researchers and perhaps, occasionally ruffle some feathers. This will not be a place where I post all my data, since I am collecting this data to be used for writing papers that I hope will be published in peer reviewed scientific journals or magazines.  I am very concerned with using solid scientific methods, terminology and criteria in my studies, but I hope that the tone will not be too dry for the average Osprey lover to benefit from reading my blog. I am enthusiastic about what I see when observing Ospreys in the field and they still surprise me! I hope I can prompt some of you to fall in love with these magnificent birds of prey, develop some insight into their behavior and get involved in helping to  study and protect them.