That time has arrived, and I have confirmed fledgling on a couple of our earliest nests! Seems like they just hatched but now they are adult size and taking their first flights. So what is it that happens physiologically that prepares them for flight? As their feathers are growing in they are called blood feathers, as the shaft is full of blood. They do a lot of eating and sleeping as their bodies are putting energy into growing these feathers. Breaking a blood feather can cause a serious loss of blood. As they approach fledging, the blood in the shaft of the feather begins to dry up and the feathers stiffen enough to be able to sustain flight. In those 10-15 days prior to fledging they will also be building their muscles by flapping their wings. On a nest full of three chicks, it can become chaotic so quite often the parents begin to perch nearby, rather than in the nest. The chicks can begin to hover up above the nest or even “fly” from one side of the nest to the other. And then one day, a gust of wind will carry the chick off the nest on its first voyage away from the nest. I watch closely to be sure they land safely somewhere nearby. After 25 years of watching this, I have come to believe that flying is the easy part, but landing is difficult. Sometimes the return to the nest ends in a face plant! Technically I call a nest “successful” when at least one chick is known to have fledged successfully. That does not mean it flew away, and was never seen again. Ospreys remain dependent upon their parents for 10-30 days post fledge. So a successful first flight will end up with a chick back on the nest to be fed. While this stage of their development can be very exciting, it’s also a little sad and worrisome. They are on their way to independence , but they can get into a million kinds of trouble away from the nest and rescues may be necessary. We will keep searching for them on each visit, which I find to be a fun adventure. But for some of us, an empty nest is a sad sight. But let’s not go there yet! So much data still to collect. I found a new nest last week that still has a young chick in it, but I have not determined who the male is! So I still have a lot of work to do. One band number has evaded me, and I keep doing as much as I can to gather all the important facts. Our fledging dates this year are a little later than in last years, due to the late start to the breeding season, so we will be able to enjoy our friends a little longer this year!
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Another eventful day in the osprey world. Last sunday when I visited this nest it was clearly tilting and looked as if it might dump three chicks any day. I could see that the bottom of the box was deteriorating. I fretted about what to do. I called a wonderful guy I met last year named Ken Conrad and he came out today, with his friend Dave Faulk, and he climbed the pole, attached some supporting arms so the box is temporarily stabilized and those chicks are out of immediate danger. We will replace the whole nestbox in the fall after the Ospreys leave. There were a few breath holding moments as the oldest of the three chicks kept standing up and putting his wings out. I hoped he would not jump prematurely, and thank goodness he didn’t. Whew. The female was flying and giving alarm calls and these chicks appeared to be around five week old, when they are still usually obeying her calls to lay down. The youngest of the three remained hidden thru the whole operation, and in fact I was worried that we had lost one since Sunday, but when Ken had returned to the ground and we observed from a distance, three heads popped up. And dear old dad arrived carrying a fish. In fact, this is the same male I rescued last week. I noticed the tilt of the box when I rescued him, and a week later it seemed worse, so I spent a sleepless night trying to formulate a plan to alleviate the potential disaster. I am sure the fix will hold until they fledge in a few weeks and we will complete a more permanent fix in a few months. I cant express enough gratitude to Ken and Dave for coming to the rescue without hesitation. I cant do this alone and I am so deeply appreciative of the wonderful people who pitch in to assist with the care of the Ospreys and the support of the ongoing research. A million thanks to Ken for being a lifesaver. And I also want to thank Steven Koski at Xcel for hooking me up with Ken last year. It takes a village! You can view photos on our Facebook page.
Tuesday, July 10, 2018
This is an important and disturbing article...please read it. It has far reaching implications, outside of Yellowstone ....and is why the ongoing accurate monitoring of our population of Ospreys, and many other long term wildlife studies, may be critically important down the road. Some small acts can throw everything out of balance. Hope the link works...
Saturday, July 7, 2018
We’ll I have had an interesting few days. Yesterday morning I recieved a phone call shortly after 6 a.m. Of course that is always a bit unsettling. It was from an employee at a gravel pit where there is an osprey nest. They had found an osprey up in some of their equipment and they got him out but he would not fly away. So they put him in a box and called me. I drove the long trip thru rush hour traffic and picked him up. Sadly, he was a male from a nest with three chicks in it. He seemed fiesty tho. I took him to The Raptor Center. They were very busy so could not examine him while I waited. I worried constantly about him thru the course of the day and evening of course, and emailed requesting an update. Finally today they contacted me and said they found no injuries and he flew well when they tested him so he was ready for release. He must have just been stunned by his predicament yesterday. I went to get him and return him to his nest. When I opened the box, he stepped out, turned around and stared at me. I stared at him. He was less than two feet away from me, and we had a moment! He did not fly off tho, so I backed up, took the box back to the car, grabbed my iPad to take a photo, walked around the car and he was still just standing there! I was starting to worry a bit....but when I approached him again he finally took off. He flew perfectly, tho not towards the nest, but in the opposite direction! He immediately began chasing another osprey. I counted the chicks in the nest and all three had survived tho they had empty crops. The female began chirping and food begging ...this is called mixed messages! But it was so interesting that this male was more concerned about defending the territory than feeding the chicks. I suppose in those 24 plus hours, a single female with chicks and no male defending the nest, must have looked like a territory that might be up for grabs. This could attract males that are looking for a territory. Sometimes, this is how a young male can establish himself. But our male decided that dispatching that intruding male was the first order of business. He was quite aggressive in defending his nest, dive bombing and footing the interloper. He did finally go to the nest and the female literally got in his face about her desire for some fish! He remained focused on the other male, and he finally went to a nearby perch where he could watch over everything. The female finally left, perhaps to get some food, since he was watching over the kingdom. I love watching their behaviors, especially in unusual circumstances. I remain so curious about their reactions, and how they cope with difficulties. At any rate, I am relieved that our guy is back with his family and all is well on that nest.
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
Happy Fourth of July to you all......it’s not one of my favorite holidays, nor is it enjoyed by the Ospreys. We have several nests on ballfields lights, where fireworks are shot off every year. We have often lost chicks on this night. I presume they jump out of the nest too soon, out of fear, and are predated on the ground. So few people think about how these activities affect wildlife. I checked many nests today and had to wait out some heavy rain several times. The reward was counting many chicks. At one nest, as the rain slowed down I watched a female standing up with her wings out, providing shelter for her young.....and a cute head popped out from under Moms breast, all snuggled up beneath.....so sweet. She almost seemed to be hugging her little guy. Another chick snuggled up on her side...but that guy who got the prime spot for weathering the storm, was so cute, looking up at mom....don’t squish me!
Now this is the way to spend a holiday like this....peaceful, endearing. I also stumbled upon a new nest being built....I am not sure if it’s a frustration nest or a totally new nest, since the male was unbanded, but it was not far from a failed nest. Hmmmmm. Tomorrow I will try to visit some nests where fireworks went off, to count heads again and see if they all survived the chaos.