Iris, the Grand Dame of Ospreys

As the days of summer give way to thoughts of falling leaves and back to school, our beautiful Ospreys think of migration. Those in the United Kingdom have already already headed to the area around Poole Harbour to have a last good feed and sleep on land before heading south to Brittany and on to Africa. Those in the United States and Canada will take various routes. The male is still in Manitoba with one chick at the nest I watch.Some head to southern Texas and places in Mexico while those in the northeast fly over the cost, over the length of Cuba heading to South America. One of those leaving her summer breeding grounds in Missoula, Montana will be Iris.

Iris is not ringed. No one knows where she goes for the winter but, she turns up in tip top shape to her nest at Hellgate Canyon every spring.

Typically Iris spends more time at her nest before her departure. Last year she said goodbye on 8 September. Because of her age, many worry that she will not return. It is always an anxious wait until spring and she arrives again full of hope and hormones.

Sharon Leigh Miles shared this image of Iris taken on her favourite tree on Mt Sentinel on 6 September at 09:22.

She is there. Just squint.

Iris is the oldest osprey in the world – the grand dame of all of them. In her lifetime it is estimated that she has fledged between 30 and 40 chicks but no one knows for sure. It is possibly more. Iris is known around the world. Her arrival on 7 April 2021 to her Hellsgate nest made print and television news. Dr Ericke Green of the University of Montana believes Iris is at least 25 years old, perhaps more.

In the image below, Iris just landing from her winter migration. All the worrying about whether or not she survived another winter is put to rest.

Welcome home, Iris. 7 April 2021
Landing with a nice big breakfast. 10:36 am. 11 April 2021

Iris’s nest, prior to the one she uses now, was on a hydro pole about 68 metres or 200 feet from this one. This artificial nest was built for Iris because of the high rate of electrocutions on power lines – all birds, not just Osprey. The power lines are high enough and have a clear view that they appear to be desirable. The new nest, erected in 2007, is all set up with a high resolution camera. Iris took to the new nest right away, thankfully. Iris mate, at the time was Stanley. Stanley did not return from migration in 2016. Her current mate, Louis, and her have had a very chequered relationship. Louis also has another nest with Star, his primary nest, near the baseball park. Iris and Louis fledged one chick, Le Le, in 2018.

Many of us are glad that Iris has been spending the summer of 2021 taking care of herself. Raising chicks is not an easy job – and everyone loves Iris and wants her to return year in and year out from her migration.

I have included some images taken at the nest this year.

Iris worked on building the best nest that she could. Every day she brought in more material. She eventually will lay three eggs – that we and she – seem to know are destined not to hatch. These were bittersweet moments for everyone.

She was fierce in her fishing and the protecting of her nest. Indeed, her and Louis protected the nest together several times. The video below is from 22 August.

Sharon Leigh Miles provided a chart of the departure dates for Iris for her migration. Today is 6 September so we are definitely in the range. These are the previous dates of her departure:

  • 2012: 6 September
  • 2013: 6 September
  • 2014: 11 September
  • 2015: 4 September
  • 2016: 8 September
  • 2017: 9 September
  • 2018: 10 September
  • 2019: ?
  • 2020: 8 September

There is no one on the Hellgate Canyon nest this morning. Everyone is hoping that Iris will make several long appearances on the nest before she departs. This has been her MOD in the past. Fingers crossed!

If you would like to periodically check on the nest, here is the link to the streaming cam:

The Montana Osprey Project has had one fundraiser – the Iris pens – this year. If you would like information on how to order one of these, send me an e-mail and I will provide the details. They are lovely. There are also plans to commemorate Iris by a woodblock print. As information comes through I will post it.

Keep Iris in your heart. Migration is challenging. We wish her a safe journey, good winds, lots of fish, and a safe return to Montana in the spring.

Thanks for joining me. Take care everyone.

Thank you to the Montana Osprey Project for their streaming cam where I took my screen shots and their FB page. Thank you Sharon Leigh Miles for allowing me to use your images posted on the FB page.

5 Comments

  1. Thanks Mary Ann for this wonderful
    Newsletter about our lovely Iris! It’s such a Blessing on our Labor Day holiday to learn the latest on Iris! We will miss her so much. Everyone does love her and wish her a good migration when she leaves. So excited to know about the pens and woodblock print! Thanks and have a great day! Looking forward to the new newsletter! Linda

    1. Oh, you are so welcome. She is such an incredible bird. You got it – a count down. She can leave anytime. I do hope, like you, she will stop at her nest and say goodbye. It seems like that is what she is doing. I often wondered if they adjust a GPS location in their brain. So many go to the nest including the males. Just a silly wonder of mine. She is very special and it is so nice she is so loved.

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