Living on Osprey Time
25 March, 2021 Trouble in Paradise Pam Narney
George with a fish in his talons
The Osprey observer/lover who has to watch the male eat most of the fish, even flaunt the fact that he has a fish by making a bragging fly by with the fish in his talons, is confused. We watch the male settle down very close to his mate to feed, while she is begging loudly. Something is not right.
One of my neighbors noticed this feeding behavior and commented, “That’s selfish.” I compared the behavior to putting on oxygen masks in an airplane emergency. You put your oxygen mask on first, so then you can help others. It’s the same for Osprey. If the male does not have enough sustenance to stay alive and healthy, who will protect the nest and provide food? Mom Osprey cannot do all of those things alone and take care of her chicks. The entire Osprey family could die.
In 1999 we watched with concern as the male on our nest did not feed the female, or when he did, it was not much. This must have been a young male. Female Osprey usually choose mates that feed them well. Not all mates are well chosen. This begging call went on all day for days.
That young male even flew into the nest, mantled his food (protected it by covering it with his wings) and continued to eat right in front of her. I wanted to get a fish, grab a kayak, and throw a fish into the nest. But I must learn not to interfere with nature
I also must try not to anthropomorphize the Osprey. It is almost impossible to see their daily lives so closely, experience the drama, and not give them human traits and emotions. This is a challenge I lose each year. It begins when I name them.
The begging calls were driving me crazy. I actually went out on the deck, shook a raised fist at him and yelled, “Feed her.” My patience was gone. Apparently so was hers. The next time he brought a fish into the nest, she shouldered him aside, ripped the fish from his talons, and flew off to eat it in plain view. That male Osprey matured quickly because that year’s nest was a successful one, or maybe that female just explained the facts of life to him.
Gracie, wet, bedraggled and hungry
Yesterday we had strong rain all day. This morning at 7:00 am the bay was covered with a dense fog: visibility zero. The chance for breakfast, zero. An Osprey has to see a fish to catch it.
Osprey hunt surface fish or fish in shallow flats or shorelines. According to Poole “Once it locates fish, an Osprey must pick out a vulnerable individual of the appropriate size, stalk it carefully, and then dive accurately enough to snag the slippery, elusive form under water”. Of course, with visibility on Placid Bay nil; there was no chance of seeing fish. Out of the dense fog, Gracie vocalized her begging call, which is truly pitiful.
Back at this year’s nest, up until now, George had been a steady provider. But lately the food supplied to Gracie had been meager. Was it just a week of wet and foggy days?
How did Osprey life at the nest get desperate so soon? Was hunger the reason for the events that played out later?
The fog lifted about 9:25 am. George brought more moss to the nest while we can be sure that Gracie wanted a fish. She was stuck in an empty sodden mess. She amused herself by moving sticks around (rearranging the furniture).
By 4:30 No fish had been delivered yet, and George was not in the area.
Gracie waiting for a fish and giving her begging call
While George was absent from the nest, Gracie seemed to be entertaining another suitor. He was in the nest with her. Did she think he might be a better provider? Well-fed females are less likely to beg from strangers or to copulate with them (Poole). Was she merely angry at George? Who knows what Osprey think? We can only observe the facts.
Suddenly, flying at warp speed, George charged the nest. Birds scrambled out in both directions. George took off after the intruder. By the violence and strength of his chase, it seemed that the intruder must indeed have been another male. A female could have been cowed and easily forced to move on without such a show of force.
For the rest of the day and into the night, George was up in his perching tree and Gracie was nowhere to be found.
Had Gracie been injured? Had she run off with another male? Osprey usually mate for life and can live to be 25 years old. Would there be no family of chicks to watch this year? No joy? No fun? No blog?
As soon as light crept into the bay, I grabbed the binoculars and watched the nest.
There she was. Gracie was on the nest and George with her.
Peace was restored in Placid Bay.