Monday, September 30, 2013

End of September

I checked a few nests today and there are still some ospreys around! I visited one nest that was empty but as I sat there I saw an osprey flying off in the distance, so I went searching for him. I could hear a juvenile food begging but could not spot him. I went back to the nest...still nothing there, so I started walking and listening and finally located the juvenile in a tree. I did not find an adult, but I believe there was one that the youngster was asking for food. I went to another nest on the other side of town and found a juvenile female on her nest, preening and snoozing in the lovely autumn sun. So here it is, Sept 29, and we still have some youngsters that are not ready to start their first migration. Interesting. I will keep you posted!

Monday, September 23, 2013

First day of fall...

It was a glorious morning here in Minnesota...high fifties, a crystal clear sky, light breeze. I began my day at the farmers market and then proceeded on to check some osprey nests. I visited several of the nests that had fledged rather late and still had juveniles on them four days ago. The first nest I visited produced no ospreys at all, where there had been two young females a few days ago. The next stop was a nest that had one juvenile present four days ago. No ospreys seen or heard there either...but there was a lot of human activity there which made me wonder if that was the cause for the empty nest. I decided to pop over to a nearby nest where I had seen one adult on the last visit...he was still there, perched on the edge of the nest with a fish. After about fifteen minutes he flew in circles above the nest, displaying the fish for any hungry youngsters to see. Sure enough, he scared up another osprey and they flew in circles together for a while before the adult returned to the nest. Oddly, the other osprey landed only briefly before disappearing completely. I was not able to identify the bird as a juvenile or adult. Then the adult male took off also. I moved my car for a different view of the area. I located the adult male in a tree with his fish, but could not locate the other osprey. I returned to the other empty nest...still no ospreys there. I later received two emails from osprey observers who said they did see ospreys back there in the afternoon. I visited another one of the very latest nests to fledge and found two youngsters in the area, both with a fish of their own, tho I could not locate any adults. So we do have a few ospreys lingering in the area, tho many nests are empty. Its amazing how mesmerizing it is to just watch an osprey eating a fish, when you know it is a sight you may not enjoy for many months. I soaked up the sun and the pleasure of watching my beloved ospreys on this lovely early fall day.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Just a few ospreys left...

I have gotten behind gets busy for me this time of year. Last week I visited the young female who moved herself to another nest, where she was adopted . The other three chicks on that nest had become independent and the female has been gone for a while. The adopted juvenile was still sitting on the nest food begging, and the adopted Dad was on a nearby telephone pole. The youngster would fly loops around the male, while hollering for food vociferously. There was a strong north wind that day and when she flew back to the nest she was flying so fast, she zoomed right past the nest and had to struggle back against the wind. I can see why migration is so much easier with a strong wind ! She was still keeping her right eye closed a lot that day, as she has on previous visits. Today I checked her again and found no ospreys anywhere near the nest. So I guess she and the resident male are on their way. I will wonder about her for a long time. I also visited 13 other nests and found one nest with a single adult male, one nest with a single juvenile silently preening and at one of the latest nests to hatch and fledge chicks, there were still two chicks food begging loudly, tho I could not spot an adult. All the other nests were empty. One of my trusty volunteer nest monitors found a few chicks and adults present on her nests yesterday. So there are a few of our friends still in the area, but our osprey viewing days are numbered I am afraid. I will try to check on a few birds this weekend.

Sept 8, 2013

Checking a few more nests of the latest fledgers. I found both chicks still near the nest, both are females. One had a fish and was happily eating, the other was food begging. Lo and behold, here comes an adult with a fish, but it's the adult female, not the male. No sign of the male. Hmmmmm. I saw the male here a few weeks ago, but at this late date I would expect to see the male not the female feeding them. I know of two other nests that are being fed by just the female, with no sign of the male for some time...since mid summer? I think we may have lost a few males this year. But at least it was good to see those two chicks staying out of trouble! Still wondering if these chicks and adults will stick around longer than usual before beginning migration, given their late start in life. Keeping track of all this to see if climate changes will alter the ospreys behaviors.  

Sept 7, 2013

I checked on the juvenile who moved herself to another nest today. She was still sitting on her adopted nest alone. After 1.5 hours, her adopted father came with a fish for her...she grabbed it aggressively, and he went to a nearby power pole to sit and watch over her. Great male. She is keeping one eye closed a lot of the time, which worries me...but when she opens it, it looks fine. It's been like this for at least ten days. She flies well when she has the courage to leave the nest. I then visited another nest in the area and found another female chick sitting there alone too. Food begging whenever she saw another Osprey. This is how many female juveniles behave. When will they venture forth?
We have also been watching over an adult female who had some sort of eye first it seemed crusty and swollen...only open a slit and she did not leave the nest for many days. We were very concerned. Eventually she began to open it more, and began flying more...short distances, and was depending on her mate for food (fairly normal). She did fight the chicks for food when it was delivered. I last saw her last Sunday...eating a fish, next to her mate, on a cell tower a ways from their nest. Still keeping her eye closed a lot, but opening it to fly and land. I suspect they are on their way now...but I will look for her again tomorrow or Monday. We may not know about the final outcome with her eye until next spring. She is a middle aged female who has been a very successful breeder, so we do not want to lose her. Hoping to see her again in April! So I keep checking on the ones who I have concerns about. Still learning and documenting behaviors.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Polygyny update...

Another short post. I am sitting at one of the nests that belongs to the fellow who produced six chicks at two nests. When I arrived there were no ospreys here (or near his other nest). I waited. Finally the banded male showed up with a fresh, flopping bullhead. He perched and waited. No chicks showed up. He took a few bites of the head, and then he waited, looking all around. Still no juveniles. After about 15 minutes, he took off in the direction of the other nest. Less than two minutes later I heard the distinctive whining calls for food that a youngster makes, as he came flying in to the nest. But he had a fish! Not the same fish tho...different species and this one appears to be dry and stiff. Did he catch it himself? He is on the nest finishing it. He is the youngest of the chicks from this nest...seemed to almost be a runt at the beginning. He is doing well and has become a handsome male. Now he has finished his crusty fish tail and is moving sticks on the nest...finally flies off in the same direction that Dad went. Maybe he can hustle some of that bullhead! Yum. As I drove down the road I found one of his siblings perched in a tree, full crop, quiet. So Dad is still around, watching over the kids. For those of you who were worried...all is well, they will be fed or they will catch food when they really need it. Still fun to watch these behaviors.

Migration has begun...

Ospreys are definitely on the move now...many transmittered birds have left their territories in the UK, Montana. I am still checking nests here and finding many birds still present, but many nests are empty now too.

My favorites...

I just stopped at that favorite nest of mine...and found dear old dad perched high on a nearby cell tower, watching over things. One chick perched in a tree with a stick clutched in her talons! As I mentioned earlier , this is part of her practicing...she flew a round carrying that stick and landed without dropping it! Well done! Did not find the other chick or Mom. She may have started her migration. I am sure the other chick is around somewhere! Yesterday I visited the chick who moved herself to another nest. She is still there, alone. I saw none of the other three chicks or either adult. However there was another male perched nearby with a fish, unrelated to either her natal nest or adopted nest. Hmmmm. I wonder if part of her departure might be related to the fact that I have not seen her father since early summer. I think something happened to him and the adult female there had to care for these chicks alone. There may not have been enough food at her natal nest. It's a complicated situation, with many factors that may have led to her move. Interesting tho, and I continue to learn so much about the subtle behaviors, reactions, survival tactics that influence every bird. Still spending a lot of time in the field, gathering data, observing, learning.

September 1, 2013

Well...I went out just to check a few nests quickly today...and was gone all day. That's what happens to me! I found a lot of food begging chicks...with no visible adults! They seemed to be food begging from each other. One pair of juveniles were launching into a chorus of food begging when two turkey vultures flew over! For Pete's sake! I also spent two hours at one of the nests that belongs to the male with two families. There were two chicks there, moving around from one perch to another, sometimes on the nest, hollering for food from each other. Their crops were empty and neither one pooped in that time. I saw no adults at all. Finally the female chick took off and the male chick remained on the nest, silently waiting. I also checked on one of the last nests to fledge chicks and found all of them present in the area, perched around, flying loops, going from perch to perch. So all have remained out of trouble and close to home. I did see one adult there, soaring above. Some nests were empty and few females were seen. I did see two mated pairs, still hanging out together a short ways from their nests...good to see them, knowing that their time together will be short now. I say silent farewells, hoping they all survive to return to each other, their territories, and to me!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Learning to fish requires many skills...

I know I have written this all before, but it bears repeating. There are a lot of skills the fledglings need to acquire to fish successfully. They first practice diving into the water and getting lift off out of the water...tricky. Sometimes this starts with foot dragging thru the water as they fly. Then they usually try to pick up something floating in the water...a stick, or once at the hack site a young osprey brought a beer can back to us. This requires the ability to fly carrying something and land on a perch with one foot, while grasping something with the other. One of the nest monitors watched a young osprey this year fly to a cell tower with a stick, and act as if she had a fish, mantling over it. Practicing. I have seen first successful fishing attempts fall apart at this point when the young bird drops the fish when he or she lands. Eventually they will accomplish all the tasks above, and will be on their way to independence. Sigh.

How do they learn to fish?

I am reposting this post from the Dyfi osprey project, largely because of what it says about the young ospreys NOT needing to be taught to fish. This is a persistant misunderstanding around here, even being passed along to the public by people who claim to be knowledgable about ospreys. The parents do NOT teach them to fish. They innately know how and they will begin fishing when they are physiologically able. Males usually do it before females. The reintroduction here would not have worked if they needed to be taught to fish. I was one of the hack site attendants and after we translocated the chicks from northern Minnesota, I climbed up the hack tower everyday to provide food but I did NOT teach them to fish, and yet they all eventually began catching their own fish, at about the same time as the chicks in the wild with osprey parents. That doesn't mean they don't learn anything from their parents...I do believe they may follow Dad to his favorite fishing spot!
Bore da - DAY 59

Here's a short video of Cerist taken yesterday evening - eight weeks exactly after she finally broke free of her egg shell.

Her 2½ day Bank Holiday vacation seems to have done her no harm and despite only fledging just five days earlier, she is now a frequent flier.

She now has the ability to deal with her own food and even her voice has broke. She is now capable of all the vocalisations of her parents that she's heard so much of over the last two months.

Cerist, along with her sister, will stay on the Dyfi for another month or so until the free food finally comes to an end. She will almost certainly not catch her own fish however during the next month, neither will she be 'taught' how to fish by either parent. She has all the fishing skills she will ever need in her life, safely embedded in her genes. She just doesn't know it yet.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

All fledged!

NOW I can report that all chicks in the metro area have fledged! I have visited many of the late nests in the past few days (and it has not been pleasant in this extreme heat...boy it drains  my energy). I can't necessarily say they all fledged many cases I can tho, if I have seen them all back at the nest after seeing them flying. There are some cases where I have not been able to locate all chicks at once post fledge. Since many are not banded, I am not always certain that each individual bird has made it back to the nest. I do my best tho. It does become a needle in a haystack sometimes...and chicks certainly do get into trouble far from their nests, long after fledging. That's why the mortality rate is so high the first year. I do try to be accurate with my in some cases I can only say the chicks survived to fledging age. In many cases tho, I can confidently say they all fledged successfully. A nest cannot be labeled as "successful" unless at least one chick is known to have fledged successfully. Flying away and landing on the ground and dying, is not a successful fledge.
Some of the definitions of the terms that I have used here, and are generally accepted in the scientific community are as follows: an OCCUPIED nest is one where a pair was present, whether or not they laid eggs. An ACTIVE nest is one where eggs were laid, and a SUCCESSFUL nest is one where young were known to have fledged. Many of you who know me, know how hard I work to adhere to good scientific methods, to be careful to use terms that accurately reflect documented data. I have a lot to say on this subject...but will save that for another time!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Wow, I just went to read the Dyfi blog (from Wales) about the fledging of their chicks last week, and the disappearing act of Cerist...and much to my surprise, found that they thanked me and put a link to my blog! It's wonderful to share our experiences and learn from each other! I have learned so much from their blog and Facebook page too. I am so flattered to know they are reading my stuff and that my insights may have helped get Cerist back to the nest!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

August 24 updates...

So many funny and interesting things I could tell you all...first let me update you about the situation where one male has two nests and six chicks. He has been very scarce...understandably. I never see him at one nest...but yesterday I found two of his three chicks at the other nest whining desperately for food. The female arrived with a big fish and one chick began devouring it. Then an unbanded male arrived and perched for a while...Hmmmm....but was followed shortly by the banded resident male carrying a large, half eaten fish. He chased the visitor away and disappeared. He finally returned and ate the fish without sharing it with his family. Good to know he is alive!
Today I visited the nest where the young female moved herself and was adopted. She was on the nest, and another juvenile was on one end of the nest perch. A third youngster arrived and tried to land on the nest but the adopted sister chest butted the other chick off the nest. He returned and perched on the other end of the perch. He slowly moved closer and closer to the nest, but when he moved onto the nest, the adopted female rose up and so did he, pushed her off the nest and a chase ensued. She is being quite the bully. He perched nearby and they all food begged and whined. I was there for over 90 adults arrived. Just the eruption of these little skirmishes. I believe she was positioning herself for a fish delivery, so she would have the advantage at getting it. She has won the battle for food in the past. Funny part was when I left and drove down another road on the other side of the hill from the nest, I found Mom and Dad, sitting side by side, male eating a big fish!!!! Avoiding the kids.
I can also say that while visiting many nests in the past few days, I have only seen a few females. Many males remain perched high in their territories, watching over their offspring and their kingdom. I also can confirm that only one chick remains unfledged, as of today. I will keep watching her. It's going to be a tough week with record high temps expected with very high humidity. It's a good time to learn to fish!

Fledging is so hard to do...

I am sitting here watching a young osprey who has not fledged yet. Her sibling is zooming around, landing on other perches and I believe I heard him saying "weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" as he flew. She hopped up onto one of the ceramic insulators on the power pole which holds the nest. Her foot was slipping and I thought she was going to slide down and catch her foot or leg. I was mentally planning a rescue, but she hopped back into the nest. Whew. The adult male has been coming and going with sticks. No sign of the female. It's been interesting to observe the effects of the late spring, with the delay in egg laying and hatching. Some females appear to have taken off on their southerly journey at the normal time, even if they still had young, unfledged offspring...or fledglings that are still returning to the nest frequently for food. Other adult females are still near their nests, watching over their youngsters. I am still checking on a handful of unfledged chicks. I fear that their chances for a successful migration are slim, given their lack of fishing skills and their dependence upon their parents. Can't believe I am still watching for fledging in late August!

August 20...

It's been a while since I posted...busy checking on all those chicks! Some have ended up on the ground, some figured out how to get going on their own, some did not. One had to be placed in a neighbor nest since its home was on a cell tower...but it was cared for there until it was able to get back to its nest on its own. In another interesting twist, a chick moved herself to another nest where she was adopted by that family! She was not just visiting...she moved in! Interesting! And there are still a few chicks that have not fledged! I am trying to account for all chicks, but sometimes it's not possible. But we do try! Many chicks disperse this time of year, especially the males, tho we may see them again before they begin their migration. Some adult females are not being seen on the nests anymore and I am sure they have begun to head south. It's interesting how different the adult males behaviors are...some are so attentive, watching over their offspring, providing food whenever a food begging voice is heard. Others seem oblivious, ignoring the chorus of hungry voices. There are a variety of situations that have us concerned, so we watch over those birds carefully. I am so thankful for all of the people who have checked on the ospreys, alerted me to potential problems, and who take time out of their busy days to help assure the welfare of our winged friends.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Polygyny update

Update on the polygyny case...the last chick has fledged! So the male that produced six chicks at two nests was successful! It's amazing. I am watching the littlest chick flying loops, sticking his landings and food begging. There he goes on another loop around his home territory. He flies low and barely misses things...makes me nervous, but he made it back to the nest with one of his siblings. What I am not seeing, is the male or the third chick. The chicks are food begging, so the female just took off. Did she go to get a fish or to get the male????


Very interesting day in the field. I believe that some females are getting ready to leave already. I have been struggling to read a federal band with eight digits on a female all season, and I have all but that last digit! In recent visits she is feeding herself rather than her chicks, who have fledged. She has been gone for long periods of time, flying off as far as you can see. I suspect those females lose some muscle mass after all the incubating and then all the brooding, standing guard, shading. She seems to be needing to do some serious flying to get ready for migration. Alas, she has been hard to find as I try to get that last digit. I have seen other females perched alone, chicks off with Dad. We still have chicks that haven't fledged at this late date too. What a weird year. I also observed some very interesting and different behaviors today...some things I need to follow up on and revisit before I make sense of it all and post. I still am learning new things, seeing new things and scratching my head a bit. Love it. I get so excited sometimes by what these birds do. 

2012 data analysis...

I have gotten way behind on this is the synopsis of the 2012 results:
The year 2012 began as a warm and early spring for the Ospreys in the 8 county metro area surrounding Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. There were no major storms that caused mortalities in the population. Once again there was a significant increase in overall number of occupied nests. There were 90 nests which were occupied* by a pair of adult ospreys, although two of these were determined to be alternate / frustration nests which were occupied by a pair counted at another nest site nearby. As a result, there were 88 nests that were counted as being occupied territories. Eggs were laid in 83 nests (73 in 2011) and 68 of these nests had at least one chick fledge successfully or survive to fledging age (56 in 2011). There were 20 nests which failed (24 in 2011). There are two distinct subcategories under failures; nests where a pair was present but no eggs were laid (five) and nests where eggs were laid but they failed to successfully fledge a single chick (15). Not laying eggs is considered to be a kind of nest failure by other scientists. There were 140 chicks that were known to have fledged successfully or survived to fledging age. There were three chicks which died / disappeared before banding time, and six additional chicks which were known to have died between banding time and fledging, or around fledging time. There were only 57 chicks banded, (using the green / black color band and a silver USFWS band) and 83 remained unbanded (only 41% banded compared to 71% in 2011, and 80% in 2010). This is a significant drop in the number of chicks banded which will affect future research. There were 88 adult Ospreys identified by their bands. Two of these were purple/ lavender bands from Iowa. There were 10 new nests; nine with eggs laid and and one with a pair present but no eggs laid. In addition, there was one nest which was reported for the first time, although it had been active for several years. Nine of those new nests successfully fledged chicks. There were 12 banded Ospreys which were believed to have bred successfully for the first time and their average age was 4.5. (Average age of first successful breeding for males this year was 5.0 years and for females it was 3.0 years).
The overall productivity of occupied nests which were successful rose this year to 77% (70% in 2011, 73% in 2010, 67% in 2009, 65% in 2008). The mean number of young fledged per successful nest was 2.05 (1.94 in 2011). The mean number of young fledged per active nest was 1.68 (1.49 in 2011) and the mean number of young fledged per occupied nest was 1.59 (1.36 in 2011). These numbers reflect a rise in productivity after dropping last year.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

After the storm...

I checked nests after the storm last night and the nests I visited on the western and northern side all seemed fine. I found more chicks fledged and I noticed that the leaves are already starting to change. Seems early. I had an interesting few hours at one of the nests whose original male was tending to two nests. There was an over abundance of ospreys flying around near the nest...five at one time. They returned several times, chirping, circling, socializing, with no apparent aggression. The most interesting part was that one of these visiting males was doing a sky dance, a part of courtship behavior, high in the sky above the nest with a fish in his talons. The chicks were food begging much of the time I was there. It seemed as if the female was hesitant to leave her chicks to get some food with all the extra ospreys in the vicinity. When things quieted down at one point, she left. It was during her absence that the sky dancing male with the fish landed on the nest. It was NOT her former mate. Tho the chicks were hungry, one of them lunged at the male...I wonder if it was to grab the fish or to suggest that he leave. Leave was what he did. The female returned with a fish 23 minutes after she left and she was followed by an unidentified male. He did not land. The sky dance started up again above the nest, and that male came back and landed on the nest while the female was there. She did not attack...there was a raucous arising of food begging by all, which seemed to scare him off again. So it seems she is attracting some new, potential mates. I did not identify her former mate during all this commotion. This all must be stressful for her. The chicks are doing allright, tho hungry.

Friday, August 2, 2013


I would like to elaborate on something mentioned earlier which seems to have raised questions. It relates to behaviors during the early post fledging time. When an osprey chick flies for the first time, they do not have the skill level that an adult has. I mentioned that if they land on the ground, they usually can't get going again from that position until they are stronger and have developed more skill. Adult ospreys do not usually feed a chick that ends up on the ground. Feeding at that stage of development occurs on the nest. If a rescuer finds a chick on the ground, they may try to place a chick on a fence or in a tree. This is done to facilitate the young birds take off, to return to the nest.(and to prevent predation by ground predators). This does not mean the chick will get fed there. In my 20 years of watching young ospreys fly for the first time, I have seen them land somewhere, like on the ground, in a tree or telephone pole and sit there food begging for many hours, perhaps even a day or more. I have NOT seen the adults feed them there. I have frequently observed the adults flying around the stuck chick with a fish, and then flying to the nest, as if to lure them back there to eat. Feeding occurs at the nest for 10- 20 days after fledge. Young ospreys do not seem to have the dexterity to perch and hold a fish to eat at first. It won't take them too long to develop those skills, but at the time of the first few flights they usually need to return to the nest to get fed. It can seem cold to see adults ignoring a young osprey desperately food begging, but perhaps they instinctively know that if the youngster can't fly well enough to get back to the nest, it is not a wise investment of their energy to feed it. Sometimes human intervention can change the outcome, but sometimes not. I have seen chicks repeatedly jump or fall out of a nest, and putting it back in the nest several times did not help. Some chicks just don't develop properly and do not survive. I always think its worth a try. This is contrary to the behaviors of some other birds. I have rescued songbirds who fledged too soon many times, placing them in a high perch and the adults will feed them there. I can't explain why ospreys behave differently, I can only report what my observations have been over 20 years.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I need to do some educating about what to do if you find an osprey chick on the ground. First of all let me dispell some myths. The parents will NOT feed it on the ground. That is true of some other birds, but not ospreys. Fledging time is a precarious time and some birds do end up either falling out of a nest or having some mishap during the process of fledging and they do need help. Young ospreys who land on the ground during one of their first flights are sometimes unable to get lift off from the ground. They may not have developed enough strength or skill to do that. We are so lucky here that we do have some wonderful sources for help. First of all you can contact me! I check emails many times most days, and if you live near a nest that you visit regularly, please send me an email so I can give you my phone number in case you ever need it in the future. I need to have a team of people on the alert so if you wish to be a part of such a team, let me know! I am experienced at handling ospreys, and always have a box in my car.
If you cannot get a hold of me, the next source of help is the Raptor Center. Their phone number is 612-624-4745. They will usually advise you about how to pick the bird up and how to transport it to their clinic. Do not feed the bird or give it water. They do not drink, they get fluid from their fish. Put it in a box and put a towel over the box, or a top on the box. It will need some air (holes) but keeping the box in a dark cool place will keep the bird calmer. Get the bird to TRC as soon as possible...time matters. If you do take an osprey to TRC, please send me an email about it. I know that if you are reading this page, you care about ospreys, so let's not let them die uneccessarily. We lost a chick yesterday, perhaps because it did not get rescued quickly enough. Sadly, this may not reach the people who need to know what to do. Thanks to David, Joren, and Raquel for finally rescueing the chick and thanks to Paul for letting me know about it.

Saturday, July 27, 2013


Update on one of the nests that is sharing a least two of the chicks have fledged successfully! It's a milestone, but also means they will be even more hungry as they use energy flying. Those chicks really pack on the pounds before undertaking their first migration. The female is providing food there, so the male is probably not able to keep all six of his offspring fed adequately. But they are surviving and achieving all the developmental stages we watch for. His other family has not begun fledging.

Two fish in four minutes!

Watching a nest today with a female and two chicks...she was food begging vociferously. The male flew over the nest, out over the lake, hovered for a second and plunged into the water right in front of me, big splash, came up with a lovely sunny or crappie, delivered it to the female. He then turned around, went right back out over the water, plunged again, came up with another fish in less than four minutes! He delivered that one also...but the female was feeding the two chicks with the first fish. They ignored he flew off with the fish to a tree. When the female finished feeding the chicks, she went to the tree and took the second fish from him and ate it herself. What a generous guy.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


I can finally confirm the first successful fledgings that I have seen this year! Both of the chicks that were missing from their nests in recent days, are flying well and have returned to the nest! Yeah! Many more will follow soon. They probably already have but I have yet to confirm it! It takes a lot of time and energy to locate chicks, or wait for them to return to the nest.
I also have updates on the two males who were attending two nests. As of today, one of these males still had six chicks that were doing well. I have seen the male hanging around at one of his nests more than the other and often found the other female absent. I have now confirmed that she is having to fish for her family also. On my most recent visit, I did not see the male at either nest.

The other male with two nests was very  inattentive to his nest with three chicks in it and that female was leaving the nest unattended for fairly long periods of time to fish for her threesome. It's a calculated risk to leave the chicks alone, but she had to in order to ensure their survival. Sadly, his other nest has failed. The remains of the lone chick were found on the ground today. I saw the male perched alone on the empty nest, preening today..while his other mate, on the other nest, was out fishing. He does not seem to be directing his attention and energy to where it is most needed now. He is a young male and this is his first year of breeding.  The other male is a little older, a little more experienced, having bred successfully two other times.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

July 23...

Another long day in the field with one of my great nest monitors! We confirmed the number of chicks on all nests in her watch area, and sadly found one chick missing since last week. We remained concerned about the remaining chick since we did not see the resident male bringing fish. They seemed to be visited repeatedly by other males...flying by, trying to land on the nest, sometimes carrying a fish but leaving without offering it. The female was food begging and acting defensive, chasing males. We believe something may have happened to her mate and she may be a single parent now. We also visited another nest where, upon arrival we saw no adults. A lone chick looking in all directions. We searched, waited, started talking about rescue plans and then finally the female arrived with a fish. Is she alone now too? Not sure. A male was here last week. These nests will be checked again soon. On the second nest, the chick is quite large and will fledge soon. She will be able to successfully raise a single chick if she has to. We also found many nests with three big chicks and both parents close by, so we had much to celebrate. I received interesting emails from osprey watchers in had spotted one of our females, nesting there for three years! We also had some interesting discussions over the causes of mortality of chicks at a more advanced age...GHO's, black flies, raccoons, blow flies, being blown out of nests. It's always fun to share info and ideas with others who share this interest in ospreys.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Failed nests

This is the time of the breeding season when I sadly discover nests that had a happy family a week or two ago, are now empty. Sometimes I find no trace of any ospreys, sometimes I find an adult perched in a tree near the nest. I search for bodies when I can. I have found several nests like this in the past few days. It's frustrating to have no certain explanation for the failures. The most likely causes are that a chick got blown out of the nest in a storm or the nest was predated. The likely suspect is a Great Horned Owl. If I get to the nest soon enough I may find bodies, often with the head missing...the calling card of an owl. But other ground predators may have carried away the bodies by the time I discover the nest empty. I search for the adults in the surrounding area. We are also approaching one of the dangerous passages for chicks...fledging. Not all first flights go well. If they fly away and are never seen again, it must be assumed that the chick got into some kind of trouble. Most chicks first flights are a short loop and back to the nest, or to a safe, but often awkward landing on some nearby perch. From what I have observed, flying is easy, landing is hard! I search for chicks missing from the nest...and usually can find them. When the male brings a fish, most chicks come screaming. To call a nest successful, it must be determined that at least one chick fledged successfully.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Me and one of my little friends

more polygyny

It has been discovered that there is another male engaging in polygyny here this year. He has one chick and a mate on one nest, and three chicks and another mate on the other. Unfortunately one of the nests is on very private property and I do not have permission to view the nest from a close enough distance to read bands. I can see from a distance how many chicks and if the male is present. Only... one person has close access so I have to rely on the reports I receive. I can watch one of the nests however and the male is rarely there...the nest with three chicks. I do wonder why this has occurred considering the number of extra males I have seen visiting other nests. There is no shortage of males! In this case the male on one of these nests did not return, and the other case also involves a female whose mate did not return AND her nest was removed from its former site so she had to move also. Perhaps these behaviors are also related to the very odd, delayed beginning of breeding season this year. With so many lakes frozen when the birds first returned, many birds did not stay on their territories until a food source was available nearby. Many returns were delayed perhaps the confluence of unusual circumstances led to this massive game of musical nests, where some males managed to end up with two mates and two territories. I am hoping for happy endings. It will be interesting to see what happens next year also. Sometimes when a male claims a territory and has bred successfully there, it's hard to get him to give it up. I have seen several males defend multiple territories ...a former nest site and the current nest site. I know this all sounds like a soap opera with its twists and turns. Hope you followed the storyline! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Polygyous update

I could not stand to stay home another day so I went to check a few nests. Of course high on my list were the two nests being attended by one male. There are so many aspects of the behaviors observed that I could go on tangents about...first let me report that all six chicks are alive and doing fairly well. Chicks on one nest looked better today than on the other. Both nests have one chick which is lagging behind developmentally. Chicks on one nest had salt around their nares, which is an indication of dehydration. The other three did not. I saw the resident male three times at one nest and not at all at the other. He brought two fish to one nest and came flying in with a third fish but went to a tree to eat it himself. During his lunch, another male arrived and flew over and the resident male took off after him, carrying the fish. I did not see him return or deliver it to the nest.
I saw this visiting male three times. He is banded but I was not able to read his band. I am sure others have. I was a bit worried about the youngest chick at one nest...the other two larger chicks were dominant during the feeding, and the little guy seemed cut off on the far side of the nest. It was interesting to see the female trying to reach the small one and finally she backed up from the other two chicks, walked around them to get to the little guy and began to feed him. Sometimes females feed whoever lines up...but she intentionally moved to feed the little guy. The female was totally off the nest at the other site. She was gone for at least 55 minutes and I could not spot her anywhere. She finally returned to chicks with empty crops, as was hers, with no fish. Oddly enough at this nest also...the smallest chick with no feathers yet on its breast, was the only one with food in its crop! This may be related to the timing of my visits...if the little one gets fed last, he may appear to have the fullest crop later. But, clearly, the little ones are getting fed at both nests. I saw no serious aggression between the chicks, tho during a feeding at one nest, they were trying to grab bites of fish out of the beaks of the other chicks. At the other nest I did not see this...they waited patiently to be fed. So things are going surprisingly well, after a stretch of hot, humid weather. I still think the male is favoring one nest, but clearly attending to both. It is possible that one of the females is fishing also as she was wet this morning as she fed the chicks and she was gone a long time this afternoon. Wish I could sit there all day!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Arboretum nest has failed

It looks like the Arb nest has officially failed. The incubating pair are gone, the egg is off to the side, and other ospreys are being seen on the nest...other banded and unbanded birds. I am sure the behaviors seen around the nest, and not visible on the cam, may be quite interesting. I wish I could get out there today, but I can't. Still recovering from surgery.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

July 2

I checked in on the Arb cam this morning...male still on the nest. Their 39th day of incubation, the usual length in this area, was June 23. They are now way overdue and it is clear that the egg is not viable. It was either infertile or died along the way for any number of reasons. Now we are observing how ospreys behave when their egg does not hatch. This, too, is interesting. Usually the male is the last one to give up, and some males are more determined to make an egg hatch than others, as is 79. Sometimes they give up slowly, taking longer and longer breaks off the egg. Sometimes they even work on the nest by bringing sticks to cover the egg. All osprey behaviors are interesting to me, even nest failures and the reasons for them.

Sunday June 30

Another day of checking nests...found two more failed nests. They incubated too long and are giving up...both adults seen on both nests but no incubating, just perching and preening. Some of these birds may fill their time by building a "frustration" nest. I also found another nest attempt that blew down in the big storm...and they are rebuilding, tho it looked a little half hearted. Watched some tiny chicks being fed at other nests...too small to see, but the parents were leaning into the nest cup with tiny bits of fish and coming up with an empty beak, so someone's eating it! This is how we determine that a nest has hatched. We cannot see the chicks until they are about ten days old usually, but we can see the feeding behavior of the adults. I also observed some older chicks, with feathered breasts, a little down left, as they toddled around the edge of the nest, taking in the world around them. Noticing all the landmarks of "home".

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Falling in love...

I fell in love today. I met a little osprey chick who, for some reason, totally captivated me. Now, I have met literally thousands of osprey chicks over the years...but this little guy was so precious. He is an only chick, and is about ten days to two weeks old...and I was mesmerized as I watched his Mom feed him. The male watched from a high dead tree overlooking the nest. He opened his little beak and reached out for that juicy bit of fish with such eagerness...only aware of his small world on that nest. He is not even old enough to be looking around at the larger world around him. I don't know...something special about him, and the time I spent crouched on the ground peering thru my spotting scope at this precious little being. With no feathers on his breast, his crop stuck out, full of fish, looking like he swallowed a golf ball. Just so damn cute. Yup, I fell in love, again.
Checking nests non stop these days since I will have a week or two of not being able to. One nest did blow down in that terrible storm a week ago that toppled so many trees and shut off the power. Very sad, but it happens. It looks like they have begun the rebuilding, tho I did not see the birds when I visited. I am enjoying conversations with other osprey researchers about the extra ospreys that we see visiting the nests and the differences in responses by the residential pair, from nonchalance to aggression. Also recieved an interesting documentation of an eagle killing an osprey chick by dropping it in the water. We have so much to learn from each other, by sharing our observations and thoughts.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


I posted earlier about a male that was going between two nests and two females. Both nests have hatched and I see that there are three chicks at both nests. I was hoping for some smaller broods, but this guy has gotten himself in real trouble! Now he has NINE mouths to feed, including his own. No wonder I never see him anymore...he must be fishing all the time and dropping fish here and there. I do have some serious concerns about those chicks. The females will probably have to do some of the fishing, and there is already evidence of that. This leaves the chicks vulnerable, when they are unattended. Will some of these chicks starve to death? Will he pull it off? The one other time this kind of situation occurred in my study area, one of the nests failed during the incubation phase, when that female had to leave the eggs too often to get food. However, this male has managed to provide for these two females well enough to get all these eggs hatched. I will keep you posted!

Sunday June 23

For those of you wondering about the Arboretum nest, I have been out to check them in person. Absolutely no signs of hatching. Both birds were seen, preening, egg rolling, snoozing with no feeding or tending to chicks. I am wondering if the nest is in the process of failing. Time will tell. I have found several additional nests that have failed, so the numbers are mounting. On a happier note, I am beginning to be able to count heads on more nests, tho some chicks are still so small for this time of year.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Arboretum nest cam

For anyone looking for more information about the Arboretum osprey scroll down for other postings about those birds. Also click on the link to our Facebook page, to the left, for more info and conversations with viewers about the cam.
In my twenty years of studying ospreys I have discovered that most ospreys incubate for 39 days before hatching. Osprey researchers in Pennsylvania, who did the first reintroduction and early research on these birds, also documented the same incubation period. Some others have stated there is a 38 day incubation with ospreys.
Also we did observe a broken egg on the Arboretum nest. There were originally two eggs laid, but broken egg shells were observed a few weeks ago. Viewers have observed intruding ospreys causing commotion at the nest,( video on the Facebook page) so it is presumed that it was during nest defense that the egg was damaged. The remaining egg should hatch anyday now if it is fertile. The second egg was laid on May 16 and 39 days would bring us to June 23... Tho we do not know which egg was broken, but we should see hatching by the 23rd. Many eggs are not hatching this year ...probably due to the cold rainy weather which may have caused eggs to die, and a delay in copulatory behavior as a result of late returns and frozen lakes (no food source ). The timing of copulations may affect the fertilization of eggs.
Ospreys can and do break eggs was evidenced by an osprey in Montana who destroyed a nest full of eggs that were fertilized by a different male. 
Also for the record...Xcel Energy was the power company who put up the nest pole which the cam is on. Much appreciation to them for all they have done over the years. 
Read on for more info about these amazing raptors!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Thanks...and apologies

Thanks to all the volunteers, nest hosts and people in the public who have been so patient and understanding when I am not able to respond to all your emails as quickly as you might hope. I have received an increased volume of emails after the notice in the Star Tribune and the link posted on the Arboretum nest cam page. Sometimes it is overwhelming, as I also have another job, am monitoring well over 90 nests, supervising many amazing nest monitors, maintaining  a Facebook page and blog, and dealing with some personal health issues. Please know that I am trying to respond to every email as soon as possible, but when there is a request for information that I don't have handy, it may take me some time to get back to you.  I value each and everyone of you who have shown an interest in these birds, and I am not ignoring you or withholding information. I am just overwhelmed right now and sometimes I just plain  forget. Gentle reminders are welcome. I will be facing some surgery in the weeks ahead so please be patient with gaps in communication .
Thanks so much for your generosity of spirit, your time, your  patience and all the touching, appreciative comments that I have received recently. I am so glad you are enjoying this page, my work, and that we can share our passion for these birds!  I  treasure you all! It takes a village to watch over these magnificent birds!
PS Nest monitors are always needed!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Male brooding

I am still surprised by some things I see. Today I observed a male brooding the chicks while the female was in a tree preening! Usually the females do all the brooding of young when I saw the female in a tree I thought they must not have hatched yet. (The males do incubate.) But the male was looking down all the time, which is often a sign that hatching is occurring or has occurred. I was scratching my head and trying to figure it all out...and up popped a tiny little head! Yup they have hatched and dear old dad is doing the brooding!

June 13 tidbits...

Today's it is mid June and many nests have still not hatched. It is becoming clear, slowly, that some nests won't hatch. They seem to give up slowly, after incubating too long, and oddly enough it is often the females who give up first, while the males will continue to incubate. Eggs are left uncovered for increasing lengths of time as they slowly seem to realize that the eggs will never hatch. On the other side of things I was able to observe some fairly big chicks today...fully two weeks old. Bopping around on the nest, pecking at each other, reaching out for food and toddling to the edge of the nest to look around at their world. I love that. Taking in the landscape called HOME. I found a missing pair of ospreys today YEAH! Am still seeing a lot of extra ospreys visiting established nests, bothering the residential pair, trying to land, getting chased off. Those males have to be vigilant about defending the territory. One volunteer got some great photos of just such a skirmish and we we able to ID the visiting pair as being from another nest that had failed. Interesting to see how they move around, and how they behave when they have no chicks to raise. Making a little trouble in this case.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Missing egg?

Hey osprey fans....I understand that this morning there two eggs visible in the osprey nest at the U of M Landscape Arboretum , and this afternoon, only one is visible. Did anyone see anything happen today that might explain the missing egg? I was not able to watch today and my iPad is now not showing the live keeps freezing. So I thought I would put the question to the osprey watching public. Any observations to share? I am seeing a fair number of extra osprey visitors at many nests, and sometimes they try to land, which can result in a skirmish. Did some interloper break an egg? Did one roll out of the nest or is it buried in new nest material?
Here is the link again for any that need it...

PS. We can see a broken egg in the nest. Don't know what happened. Bummer. I don't remember when the first egg was laid but the second was laid on May 16. Most ospreys in this area seem to incubate for 39 days so the projected hatch date for #2 egg is June 23. Of course we don't know which egg remains so it may be #1, which may hatch a day or two earlier. Time will tell. Hoping for no more broken eggs and a successful hatch. This might be the last chance for  Mr 79.

Monday, June 10, 2013

June 8 update

Here is a little update...I have read 83 bands and I know of 9 nests that have hatched as of Saturday, June 8. That will change daily now. As some of you may know, ospreys are asynchronous hatchers...meaning the chicks do not hatch at the same time, as ducks and geese do. Ospreys begin incubating after they lay their first egg and therefore they also hatch in sequence. This means that there can be as much as a weeks difference in the chicks ages. The difference can be very noticeable at the beginning, but by the time they fledge its hard to tell the difference. There is a stage, at about ten days to two weeks of age when they do engage in some sibling aggression. Many times i have observed the older chicks pecking at the younger ones. Siblicide is reported in the literature, tho I think it is uncommon. They usually establish the "pecking order", literally, and then that aggression seems to cease. If there is not enough food for all the chicks, some may die. I have seen runts that do not survive but I am not sure it is a direct result of sibling aggression. With all the new cams on nests, we may learn more about this aspect of sibling relationships. They usually produce 2-3 chicks, with 1 or 4 also seen. In my 20 years of studying ospreys I have seen broods of four chicks five times. Those occurred at two different nests. In all cases, all four chicks survived to fledging age!

Help needed

I am in need of a volunteer to monitor two nests in the coon rapids area. If you have a spotting scope or a camera with a long lens and are interested in getting involved, please email me at
There are some very interesting behaviors and I need some help monitoring them. Thanks!

Friday, June 7, 2013

New nests

Here is a link to a short notice in the birding column of the Star Tribune...we still are hoping that people will report new nests to us so we can maintain an accurate study of the ospreys in the metro area.

Monday, June 3, 2013


The chicks have begun hatching! Fun to watch the wee ones being fed, tho we can't see them...we can see the adults taking small bits and leaning into the nest cup to offer it to the chicks. Males become very curious and attentive...staring into the nest up. Females are more restless, looking down a lot. It will be about ten days or so before we may be able to see their tiny heads reaching up for food during a feeding. Even after 20 years, it is still thrilling to me! Life goes carefully and you will see the signs. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What is it about Ospreys?

What is it about Ospreys that is so captivating? They have caused me to spend 20 years studying them, to devote my life savings to this effort, living below the poverty level in order to keep visiting over 90 nests in my eight county study area here in Minnesota. And I still can't fully explain my love for them. No other bird captivates me like this. It remains a mystery...but I see that I am not alone! It's so wonderful to connect with people all over the world who understand this love and who have been supportive of what I am doing. Thanks to all who share this passion. I appreciate those of you who contact me out of concern for some bird, some nest...I am happy to do welfare checks. I love running into some of my volunteer monitors in the field, and being greeted with such enthusiasm. I love the nest hosts who call me with interesting observations, concerns. Thanks to all who help me watch over these takes a village!

Monday, May 27, 2013

I was watching a male in a tree eating a fish, as the female on the nest was food begging vociferously. He ate the whole fish and then preened a bit, as she continued her cries for food. Finally he flew off and came back in less than two minutes with a fish for her, delivered it to her and quickly took over incubation duties. Males must feed themselves first, not out of selfishness (an anthropomorphic projection of human motivation) but so they can remain strong enough to be a good provider.
On the other hand, I was watching one of the nests whose male is caring for two females on two nests. He was eating a fish as one of his females was soliciting food loudly...and half way thru his fish he delivered the remains to her. She left with it and he took over incubation duties, but within a few minutes, he jumped up and flew off. She was not done eating, but had to return to the nest, bringing the fish with her. She dropped the fish remains on the edge of the nest and resumed incubating. It's what she has to do. This must be getting difficult for both females, who do not get enough food, enough time away from incubating. It will only get worse when the chicks hatch and he could potentially have eight mouths to feed...if there are 3 chicks and a female on both addition to feeding himself. I am hoping for some very small broods and some females that are willing to hunt.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Another cold misty day...

I spent the day checking nests with one of my most dedicated volunteers. We have a great time and always find something new and interesting, exploring back roads. We read some bands, some escaped us. We found a pair who had been driven off their nest by human activity safely settled somewhere not too far away. I had to confirm a band I read earlier...after checking the band list and realizing it was a new male on the nest, and the male from last year appears to have been replaced by his brother! Seemed like too much of a coincidence, so I reread the band to be sure. Yup, that's what happened.
A productive day in the cold, gray mist. Thanks again to ALL my nest monitors. I appreciate each and everyone of you who shares your observations throughout the season. I couldn't do this without you!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nest failure

Another interesting day in the field. This is the time of year that we start to discover nests that have failed for one reason or another, and that is what happened today. For several weeks I have been visiting a nest and finding an extra male harassing the incubating pair. The unbanded male interloper was there most of the time, trying to land on the nest, perching nearby, doing a sky dance, and both the male and female would leave the nest to chase him away. I was there a week ago and this scenario was playing out again. Today the residential banded male was nowhere to be found and the female was no longer incubating. She just perched nearby, preening. Then she was joined by the unbanded male. He behaved defensively, turning his back to her and shaking his wings occasionally. Other times they just preened near each other. No vocalizations, no chasing. I was there for nearly three hours and did not see any incubation or the banded male. Wish I knew what actually happened. Perhaps a new frustration nest will pop up in the area, or I will find the banded male elsewhere. Hmmmmmm.
Sometimes I can figure out why a nest failed. If they incubate too long we know the eggs were infertile. Sometimes the behaviors of the adults give us clues. A sudden abandonment can be due to predation. Storms and hail can damage eggs. I am not sure what happened in this case. I do not believe a new male would easily run off the territorial male mid season. Did something happen to the banded male and the new male is just taking advantage of the opportunity to take over this territory? Hopefully further visits may offer some insights.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


I have documented two "divorces" so far this year. Pairs where both are alive and well, but moved to another nest with another mate. Usually the split occurs after a failed breeding season the year before, and that is the case with both these pairs. I was watching one of the new pairs today...a sweet new bond forming. The new pair were sitting on the same branch in a tree in the late afternoon sun. Both were calm and peaceful. The male kept walking a few steps closer, sitting for a while, then a few more steps in her direction until they we sitting side by side, almost touching. Then just preening and snoozing comfortably together. She is small for a female, and he is a handsome male, with a totally white breast. Nice.
We also have a pair that is sharing their twelfth year together. That's is the longest known pair bond so far in this study.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

May 9, 2013

Another day in the field, and 178 miles! I visited 21 nests...not all I had hoped to get to, but still a productive day of data gathering. Out of the 21 nests, 13 were incubating. I read five additional bands. One osprey, nesting in a very difficult spot for band reading, was found perching in a low, easy spot and I got his band read quickly once I noticed him in the trees. My sincere thanks to him! Oddly, several nests where I had observed ospreys before were vacant today. There is one pair that is moving around, seen here and there, but just not ready to choose their nest and lay eggs. A few others are settling in, but have not popped out any eggs yet. I found one female who has moved to her third nest..After repeated nest failures, she keeps swapping nests and swapping mates. Hope this one is the right one. The pair who seemed to fighting a pair of eagles for their nest, are back on the nest. No eggs. Other ospreys seen there too, so I am searching for another nest in the area. I have to be a bit of a detective to figure everything out, and to find new nests. Please do let me know if you see ospreys dropping sticks anywhere!
And if anyone out there has a huge telephoto lens and would like to help me get a difficult band read, let me know. I mean REALLY long...and still we will have to blow it up. But it might be easier than me sitting for hours and hours and waiting for this bird to sit still where I can see the legs. That moment when they come in for a landing, with both legs dangling, might just reveal what I need with a fast, long lens. I came home to a sweet phone message from one of the osprey nest hosts, telling me the birds had laid their first egg. Nice. Thanks to everyone who helps and supports me in this work, in so many different ways. Deep appreciation on this end.

Eagles eagle eagles

It's been hard for me to keep up here...lots of interesting things happening. Eagles are proving to be more of a problem than in the past. With the increase in the population of both species, it's not surprising that the conflicts are also on the rise. One nestpole host contacted me to report that the ospreys were gone and eagles were on the nest. But the ospreys have been seen again on the nest with eagles perched nearby. It remains to be seen who will end up on the nest. Eagles used to be considered to be sub canopy nesters , while ospreys are super canopy nesters...but apparently that is no longer necessarily true. The nesting choices of most ospreys may provide greater protection from predation. Many nests are incubating now, new nests are popping up. We also have one male who is shuttling back and forth between two nests and two females. It's happened before, and one female will end up getting the short end of the fish. I suspect one nest will fail. I am also observing a great deal of disturbance from other ospreys too! Too many ospreys fighting for territories and choice nesting spots. As the population increases it also provides greater opportunities for extra pair copulation. Mixing up the gene pool. I am plugging away at reading bands but some ospreys are just not cooperating! Nor is my old expensive repair has slowed me down a bit.