Everyone loves Richmond

There is a lot of chattering going on around the ‘bird’ world and the one common word that binds people in the United Kingdom with those in San Francisco and Australia is: Osprey. Every continent has Osprey – some more than others. Many of my friends adore them above any of the other feathered friends because they ‘eat fish’. They are sometimes called ‘sea eagles’ but do not confuse them with White-Bellied Sea Eagles. Totally different.

Note the beautiful yellow eye, the dark line from that eye to the neck and the hooked beak. Wikimedia Commons.

You will find Ospreys on every continent in the world except for Antarctica. And there is no missing them. They have very distinctive plumage that helps them with the glare off of the water when they are hunting. See that black line going from the beak over the eyes and to the back of the head? That will stop the glare from the water so that their great vision, three times that of a human, can help them spot the fish swimming below the surface. If you watch American football you might recall that the players put a black line under their eyes to stop glare – something learned from the Osprey! The soles of their feet are different than other raptors. They are very rough with tiny little barbs. If they were a person you might recommend they go to get a pedicure – that is how rough those soles are. That rough surface helps them to hang on to wet slippery fish that do not want to be an Osprey’s dinner. They have four toes like all other raptors but the Ospreys can do something that others can’t – they can swivel one of those front toes to the back to help hold on to those wiggly fish. Brilliant.

Ospreys are smaller than a Bald Eagle but bigger than the large hawks. They weight 1500-2000 grams (3-4 pounds). They are about 54-58 cm long (21.3-22.8 inches) with a wingspan of 150-180 cm (59 to 79 inches). Their head, throat, and body along with their legs are mostly white. They have black and white banded tail feathers and distinctive black and white wings that bend at the joint. Their beak is black and shaped like a very sharp hook. Their eyes are a beautiful, beautiful yellow.

Feet first to catch those fish! NASA image. Wikimedia Commons.

Female Osprey are about 20-30% larger than the males. The females have a ‘necklace’ of feathers that is darker and more distinctive than the male.

Female in back, male in front. Note feathers at top of chest. Scap from Loch Arkaig FB Page.

Osprey’s have a distinctive dive and I do not have an image of it. Once they have spotted their prey, they bring their feet forward so they are even with their beak and then catch their prey feet first. They then latch on to the fish with those sharp talons. It is quite spectacular.

How large are the fish that the Osprey catch? The Osprey normally catches fish that are 15-30 cm in length (6-12 inches) and that weight less than 454 grams or a pound. The largest observed catch was 1250 grams or 2.5 pounds. Some researchers believe that they can easily carry up to half their weight.

Do Ospreys eat anything other than fish? The answer is actually yes. While the majority of their diet is fish, Osprey have been observed, on rare occasions, to eat other birds, voles, squirrels, muskrats, eels, and salamanders. Droughts really impact Osprey and their ability to thrive.

Note: Ospreys carry their fish with those amazing feet and talons. Wikimedia Commons.

The territory of an Osprey will be near a body of water – a lake, a river with lots of fish, along the shores of the oceans and seas. They build their nests off the ground to avoid predators. Originally, Ospreys made their nests in tall trees but, as you know, there is a shortage of structurally sound tall trees.

Those migrating to Canada have been known to make their nests on utility poles. Sadly, this is a huge problem because of electrocutions. So many died that petitions were sent to Manitoba Hydro, a public utility company. Near to Lake Winnipeg, that company began erecting nest platforms for the Osprey. Ospreys actually like human-made nests. It is said that if you provide a nest, the sea hawks will come. And many in Scotland will tell you that is true! Ospreys are loyal and generally return to the same nest year after year.

During the winter, Ospreys head to warmer climates returning to their breeding grounds in spring. Ospreys from the United Kingdom migrate to The Gambia or Senegal with some juveniles known to stay around the coastal areas of Spain. Ospreys from North America migrate to the southern parts of the United States along the Gulf of Mexico, Southern California, the coasts of Mexico and countries of Central America. Some Ospreys do not migrate. They include those living in warmer climates year round such as Australia, Singapore, other parts of Asia, and parts of the southern United States including Florida.

An Osprey adding twigs to the human-made nest. Wikimedia Commons.

Solly was born on a nest sitting on a barge at Port Lincoln, Australia. She is an Eastern Osprey and they are critically endangered. Look carefully and you can see the satellite transmitter on her back. She has a bright orange band on her left leg and a metal one on the right. Solly is easy to spot and many are taking her photograph as she travels the Eyre Peninsula of Australia moving north from her barge nest. I often report on her movements and from those the researchers are changing their minds about how far Ospreys travel from their natal nest.

One of the most famous Osprey couples has their nest on a 75 foot high World War II Whirley crane in Richmond.

Rosie and Richmond’s nest on an old crane overlooking SF Bay. SFBayOsprey Cam scap.

They are Rosie and Richmond and Richmond – well, everyone loves Richmond! Richmond is quite the character. He loves bringing blankets and stuffed toys up to the nest.

Richmond with the notorious blanket. Everyone took turns moving it about the nest. It was removed for safety reasons. SFBay Osprey Cam scap.

One of my most favourite Ospreys is Iris. She is not named after the flower but because she has some very distinctive spots on the iris of her left eye. Iris is the female at the Hellsgate Nest in Montana. For many, many years Iris and her mate, Stanley, nested at the site and raised many chicks. Stanley did not return in 2016. Iris’s new mate, Louis, has proven to be unreliable and the breeding seasons have been unproductive. While most Osprey are thought to live up to twenty-five years, Iris is believed to now be twenty-nine years old.

Iris with her distinctive left eye. Cornell Bird Cam, Hellsgate Osprey scap.

During the 2020 breeding season, Iris had simply ‘had it’. Louis, her mate, actually had another family. Iris laid her egg on the nest but Louis did not bring her food or come to relieve her. She had to leave the egg to eat – and, of course, the Ravens were watching and they came and ate it. Iris was not pleased. Then a squirrel climbed up the platform and was trying to get on the nest. Take the time to watch this video to the end. It is only four minutes long. I seriously would not mess with a female Osprey when they are having a bad day. I want to add that Iris was seen fishing and she sometimes returns to the nest. Everyone is hoping that she will come back for the 2021 season with a new partner.

Iris may help avian researchers understand how long wild Osprey can lay fertile eggs. We know that with Wandering Albatross, Wisdom, who is 69 years old is still raising chicks.

Iris is having a very bad day.

Ospreys raise only a single brood of chicks a year. There will be anywhere from one to four eggs. Both parents will incubate the eggs although many note that the female is there more than the male. The eggs are hard incubated from the time the first one is laid. This means that the last chick might hatch six days later than the first. This often results in siblicide where there are three or more chicks. The smallest is just that much smaller and seen as a threat to food resources. That said, I have seen Osprey parents do dual feedings, such as Loch Arkaig in Scotland, with three chicks growing up to fledge with no dominance issues. First pips are normally around thirty-six days. First flight dates really vary from 50 to sometimes as much as 60 days with 55 being the average. The chicks will use their natal nest as a home base. Parents will teach the juveniles to fish and will supplement them with fish they have caught for several months after fledging.

Ospreys were severely impacted by the use of DDT and their numbers declined rapidly. Many countries are working hard to reintroduce them to the wild. I highly recommend:

The Woodland Trust Loch Arkaig Nest in the Scottish Highlands. That URL is: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/osprey-cam/

You can find Richmond and Rosie at: http://sfbayospreys.org/

If you are interested in following Solly, the Eastern Osprey from Port Lincoln, go to: https://www.facebook.com/portlincolnosprey

You can reach the Kielder Osprey Nests through the following URL: https://www.visitkielder.com/play/discover/kielder-ospreys

If you have a favourite Osprey nest, please let me know. I would love to hear about it.

Update on Solly before I leave. Solly is now 157 days old. She spent yesterday back at Eba Anchorage. Locals say she is staying in a small marshy area near the town.

Thank you so much for joining me today. Hope to see you again soon!

Thank you to the streaming cams at SFBay Ospreys, Hellsgate Osprey by Cornell Lab Cams, Woodland Trust and Loch Arkaig, Port Lincoln Osprey FB Page and Wikimedia Commons.

Kakapo and more

Everyone is talking about the Kakapo today because two of the 208 died. These events are always full of sadness.

Have you heard of Kakapo?

They live in New Zealand and they are parrots that cannot fly. Wings are only for balance and support. Some people think they look like an owl. In fact, they are nocturnal and only move around at night. Their plumage is a beautiful moss green with some yellow and black. Their feathers are very soft because they do not need them for flight. Their bill, legs, and feet are grey. Using those grey feet they run all over the ground and climb trees. They blend in perfectly to the forests of the small islands where they now live. These islands are designated nature reserves and only authorized personnel can go on them.

Before humans arrived on the shores of new Zealand, the forests were full of these amazing creatures. Many of the early settlers kept them as pets saying that they were as friendly as dogs. They are still friendly towards humans today. In the 1990s, only fifty existed. The predators of the adults were cats and stoats while rats were known to eat the eggs and the chicks. The New Zealand Department of Conservation undertook an amazing intervention in order to try and save the Kakapo. They literally gathered up the fifty that were alive and moved them to islands where there were no predators. In June there were 210. Sadly, today there are now 206. Every Kakapo has a radio transmitter whose battery needs to be changed at least once a year. They are carefully monitored and health checks are undertaken on a regular basis. Birds may receive supplemental feeds and eggs and chicks can be rescued and raised by hand. Because there are so few, the genetic diversity is extremely low and there is also a very low fertility rate. The Kakapo are managed on three islands and there is now managed mating using artificial insemination to help manage genetic loss. They are currently sequencing the genomes of all living kakapo to aid in their conservation. The females start breeding around five years but the males are not able to fertilize the eggs until they are about ten years old. They are said to only breed when the fruit of the Rimu trees bloom which is every 2-4 years. The males get off pretty easy. The females have to incubate the 1-4 eggs, feed themselves and their chicks, and also protect their nest and young. That is the reason that so many fell victim to cats and stoats in the past. They are strict vegetarians. Kakapo generally live to be ninety years old if they do not come to harm by predators or viruses.

They are so very cute. They love to hide from the Rangers when they come to change their transmitters but they also love their almond treats after!

If you would like to learn more about the Kakapo, this is a seven minute video that is quite good:

And if you are a teacher or you know someone who is and who might like to show their students this amazing non-flying parrot – that is so utterly sweet – head over to this site sponsored by the NZ Government:

https://www.doc.govt.nz/get-involved/conservation-education/resources/kakapo-recovery/

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It’s time for updates:

That Great Horned Owl on the Bald Eagle nest near Kansas City is still there. The Bald Eagles have not evicted her. Poor thing. That snow is really packed around her. The flakes stopped coming down and while it has warmed up, it is still a frigid -4 F. Our owl (I was tempted to say little but they really are not little) is trying to sleep and keep those eggs warm. Her mate, Clyde (gosh that was my dad’s name- who would name their little son Clyde???????) is very good at bringing her prey during the night. Last mouse deposit was right before dawn broke this morning.

Bonnie took a break – less than two minutes off those eggs. Gosh she was fast! That got me to wondering how quickly that -5 temperature would impact those eggs.

It doesn’t look like any of the snow fell in over the eggs. I wondered if the warmth of Bonnie’s body would have made a bit of a crust??? Just a silly thought but, maybe.

The Bald Eagle sitting on the nest in Hillsborough, New Jersey at Duke Farms is getting some relief. The snow has stopped falling and is actually melting there. We can finally see the nest. Let’s hope she catches a break and doesn’t get hit by the system moving through on Wednesday. This poor mother has had snow for twice as long as anyone else with eggs underneath them. She should get some kind of endurance prize!

And there is some really good news on the nest of Gaby and Samson over at NEFL. Little E24 was having problems with its right eye. This morning it was completely closed again but later in the day it opened up. I could not see any discharge. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it just got a poke from some of that nest material. And give a hand to Samson who brought in five big fish. I wonder if he is expecting bad weather to set in?

Oh, just look. There is the little one’s tiny little foot close by its mom. How precious.

Samson can be my weatherman any day. He brought in such a big pile of fish earlier. Now you can hardly make out his silhouette as the rain pelts down at the nest near St. Augustine, Florida. There are also thunderstorms in the area but no tornadoes. Smart dad. That little one will be under its mother staying dry while she continues to incubate an egg that will never hatch.

It has been a beautiful day out at Big Bear. That snow and chilly winds are gone! How nice for Jackie and Shadow.

I am also very happy to report that there was so much food on the SWFL Eagle nest of Harriet and M15 that the bopping of 17 towards 18 was next to nothing today. In fact, I hope they are growing out of that behaviour. There is lots and lots of food. Indeed, hold on. Harriet even brought in some road kill today in the form of a grey tabby cat. So again, if you ever find yourself near someone who is saying eagles only eat fish, well they sure don’t on Harriet and M15’s nest. They are great opportunistic eagles. At the same time it is extremely worrying when the hawks, falcons and eagles land on the streets and highways to get the carrion and get hit themselves. It is also, of course, tragic when someone’s pet gets hit by a car.

And last, let’s check up on Solly to see what she is up to. To date Solly has re-written a lot of aspects of Osprey behaviour in Australia. That is fabulous news and supports putting satellite transmitters on birds for additional research and learning. Of course, the streaming cameras that I watch, like you, are invaluable as are the BOGs (Birders on the Ground).

Solly is 149 days old and she is still enjoying Eba Anchorage and flying over to Kiffin Island to find her dinner. Look at that seabird go!

And speaking of Ospreys, one of the Scottish Kieldner Ospreys Blue Y6, White EB’s youngest daughter, that hatched in 2016 was seen at Tanji Marsh Bird Reserve in The Gambia by bird guide, Fansu Bojang. This is just excellent news. You might recall that Avian Flu went through the Pelican population in Senegal and there was some worry for the UK Ospreys. This is just wonderful news! Last year was Blue Y6’s first year to raise chicks. She had two with her mate at a nest in Perthshire. Let’s hope she does it again this year.

There is lots of good news all around in the bird world. Even the Kakapo Recovery said that they are grateful for the growth in the numbers and with that also comes higher numbers of those dying.

The Ospreys will be making their way back to their nests across the UK and Europe soon. We wish them all safe travels. The hawks and falcons will be finding twigs for their nests and in a few weeks we will begin to welcome another group of baby eagles.

I am keeping a particularly close eye on that nest of Big Red and Arthur.

Stay safe and stay warm! Thank you for joining me today. See you tomorrow!

Thank you to the Kakapo Recovery, the AEF for the streaming cams at Big Bear and NEFL, the SWFL streaming cam and the D. Pritchett family, Derek the Farmer’s streaming cam, Port Lincoln Osprey for the tracking information on Solly, Duke Farms streaming cam, and Kielder Ospreys.