In north Idaho, osprey are ubiquitous. They are migratory fish hawks who winter along the southern US coasts and summer primarily along the eastern US coast, around the Great Lakes, northern Canada, and in the Pacific Northwest. Nesting platforms are common. These tall posts with a large flat piece of wood atop are readily accepted as nesting sites by osprey and decrease the incidence of nests on utility poles, lights, electric poles, and the like. There is an osprey nest on one such platform near my house that I’ve been watching this summer.
The Osprey Nest
It seems like this pair of birds got a late start. I first saw a bird sitting on the nest on May 29th. July 7th was the first time the chicks were visible in the nest, although I suspect they had hatched by June 29th when I saw the mom in the nest, but not incubating, and the father nearby.
Learning to Fly
Today, August 2nd, I spent some time at the nest, watching one of the two nestlings stretching his wings, preparing to take flight.
The mom spends most of her time in the nest sheltering and caring for the chicks as they grow. The dad fishes and brings food to the family. Osprey are the only hawks in North America who eat almost exclusively live fish. They have an excellent success rate spending an average of 12 minutes and catching a fish 50-70% of the time.
After some quiet preening and wing stretching, the birds started calling. After less than a minute, dad dropped in with a small fish. The mom and one of the chicks fought over it briefly while the other chick made a half-hearted grab for it. The chick won the fish and turned away with it as the dad flew off.
For the next ten minutes, the three birds in the nest continued calling and looking to the sky as if waiting to see if there might be something better. Then the chick turned her back on me and her nestmates and proceeded to eat her fish.
When the chick had her fill, the mom took what was left of the carcass and tore pieces off for herself and to feed the other chick. While this nestling seems eager to spread his wings and fly, he appears ill-equipped to feed himself.
With a full crop, the chick turned around, leaving mom to finish the food.
Surprisingly, this chick wouldn’t feed himself while its sibling won a tug-of-war with her mom. And yet this is the one so eager to leave the nest. I’ll continue to watch them until they all leave the nest, which won’t be for another few weeks. Then, it will be more than a month before they head south for the winter. The adult female leaves first while the male stays around to keep feeding the fledged chicks for another month before they will start migrating.
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