Bird Mothers of the Year

Every year we stop and think about the women who gave us life and mentored us to become independent adults. I want to stop for a moment and consider a few of the bird mothers. Last year I was able to single out one bird that seemed to give it her all and that was Big Red, the Red tailed-hawk whose nest is on the Cornell Campus. This year I have a few more to add. I am certain that you have your own list as well.

In studying the social behaviour of birds, one of the things that has astonished me is how complicated the lives of our feathered friends are and how the behaviour of humans has impacted their lives.

The birds are not listed in any particular order – I could not, for the life of me, rank them. They have struggled against the greatest odds sometime. The first bird mentioned does not have a happy ending and this is a warning about that. If you would prefer to skip this mom, then please scroll down to Big Red.

The first female on my list is Milda. Milda is a White-tailed Eagle. She worked with her long time mate, Raimis, and rebuilt their nest near Durbe, Latvia. She laid her eggs on March 12, 15, and 21. The last time that Raimis was seen was the 27th of March. Milda incubated her eggs and stayed on her nest, despite several intruders, for eight days without eating. Then on two occasions, she had to leave the nest to try and find food and was off her eggs for periods nearing five hours at a time. It is not clear how successful she was in hunting. A male WTE appeared and tried to help incubate. By some miracle two of the three eggs hatched on the 21 and 24th of April. The people of Latvia and those who adore Milda were overcome with emotion. But that joy was short lived. It was pretty clear that Milda was almost starving to death. She had completely depleted her bodily resources. The male brought a crow to the nest and the eaglets were fed and then he took it away. It was very cold and Milda had to eat. She had to leave the nest to find food. She was desperate. If she did not survive neither would her eaglets. It is like the instructions when you fly on a plane: put your own oxygen mask on first before you help your children. Did Milda know that her eaglets would freeze? was this a form of euthanasia? did Milda think the male would incubate the eaglets while she found food? In all of this, there was also an intruder. Milda’s eaglets slowly froze to death. Later that day she consumed them.

Cannibalism in eagles is a new area of study with the growing number of streaming cameras. In 2002, a group of wildlife biologists in Virginia were stunned when they observed a male eagle killing his eaglets alive and eating them. More reports of similar behaviour came in leading researchers to believe that the behaviour may be more common that believed particularly in times of food shortage.

Milda was a very devoted and dedicated single mother. The circumstances were dire. She could not help her babies if she could not feed herself and she was starving. We have watched birds mourn their dead. It is beyond my comprehension to understand how difficult all of this was for Milda. The lack of a partner and the inability of a female parent to provide enough food for their eaglet also happened at another nest in Latvia. That was the nest of Spilve whose beautiful eaglet, Klints, perished from starvation. Spilve mourned the death of her Klints. This year, she refused to use the nest that Klints’s body has become a part of. Instead, her and her new mate went to another.

I am really aware of the dedication that the Latvians have for their wildlife. What has caused a drop in prey? has it always been this difficult? and would it be possible to stock artificial ponds for these large raptors? Those are just three of my questions.

Milda feeding her two little ones their last meal. 25 April 2021

My second bird mother of the year will always be first in my heart- Big Red whose territory is on the Cornell Campus.

Big Red is even wetter. 8 May 2021

Big Red hatched near Brooktondale, New York in 2003. She was banded on 20 October 2003 in Brooktondale. She is eighteen years old. The exact history of her mates and the number of eyasses she has raised to fledge will never be known. She was known to have a nest in 2010 on the Cornell Campus and two years later cameras were installed. Her mate at the time was Ezra. Ezra was killed in 2017. It is the only year that she did not have a clutch. She bonded with her current mate, Arthur, that same year. It is entirely possible that Big Red has fledged no less than 35 eyasses. This year she has another clutch of three. Big Red is a devoted mother. By the fall she is already selecting which light tower to use as a nest and is working with Arthur then and to a greater degree in February to ready the nest for the upcoming breeding season. She has been encrusted in snow more times than I want to remember and soaked to the bones. She has been blown off the nest! Still she works and keeps those kiddos of hers full to the brim. As someone recently said, ‘No one leaves Big Red’s table hungry.’ And when her eyasses fledge she will spend days with them in family hunting expeditions so that they are as prepared as she can make them for the outside world.

Today, she was soaked to the bone and cold – even the babies are a wee bit ‘wet’. Those heavy raindrops wanted nothing more than to turn into icy slush. She fed her three little ones as quickly as she could so they would not get wet and catch a chill. Just look at the love in those eyes! Being a mom is what it is all about for Big Red.

Unlike Milda, Big Red has a devoted mate, Arthur, who is busy filling the pantry providing food for Big Red and the Ks as well as security for the territory. Arthur also gives Big Red much needed relief breaks despite the fact that she prefers to look after the little ones almost 100% of the time! Her territory is also prey plentiful.

Big Red will always be at the top of my list. She is just simply amazing.

A soaked Big Red. 7 May 2021

My third female is Diane at the Achieva Osprey Nest in St Petersburg, Florida. I am including Diane in my list for one single reason. This year her three eggs hatched and she had three osplets to raise. At the time the three were born (5th and 7th of March), there was plenty of prey on the nest. However, a week later the fish deliveries became irregular causing food insecurity on the nest. It was unclear whether or not the third hatch would survive. There would be days of plenty and then hardly any fish. If the babies didn’t eat neither did Diane. Many suspected that Jack, her mate, might have another nest. Diane began to go fishing supplementing the fish that were brought onto the nest and that is why I am including her. When she was able she would leave the nest and bring in huge catfish to feed her babies and herself. She was a selfless mom. The two older siblings and in particular, the second hatch, demanded more and more food. For days in a row the third hatch had no food. Even Diane acted on several occasions like the little one would not live. Then something happened. The food became more plentiful and she paid particular attention so that the third hatch was full. I call him Tiny Tot. This year Diane will fledge three – . Tiny Tot is the only one left to fledge and his feather growth is behind. And that is OK. Tiny Tot is simply a delight.

In the image below Tiny Tot sits in the middle of the nest with its full crop and its ever growing wings. At one time no one believed #3 would survive and most thought it would be stunted but Tiny is filling out all over. Diane makes sure that sibling #2 standing on the rim of the nest at the back does not eat all of the fish that comes on the nest. I have to give her like 5 gold stars for stepping in and making sure that the food is shared between these two. No one is left out.

Tiny is really growing. Maybe he is a she? 7 May 2021

Diane is on the nest with Tiny. They are both waiting for an incoming fish.

Diane on the left and Tiny Tot on the right. Not so Tiny anymore!

Tiny Tot can self-feed. He was the first of the three to do so. To survive he found fish bones with a little flesh on them and ate it. Diane does love to feed him, tho.

Diane loves to feed Tiny Tot even tho he can do it himself. 7 May 2021

As the sun goes down, Diane and her two little ones are full. Tiny is actually full to the brim. You can see that glimmer of the sun on his big crop.

The sun sets on the St Petersburg Osprey Nest and all are full. 7 May 2021

Another bird mom that has touched my heart in a way that I cannot quite put my finger on is Eve, the mate of Eerik, whose nest is in the Matsalu National Park in Estonia. It is so cold in Estonia that the geese had to stop their northern migration. Eve is a huge White-tailed Eagle – she almost looks ‘wooly’ because her plumage is so thick to keep her warm. She is the most gentle of mothers with her two little eaglets.

Eve does not have the prey problem that Milda had in Latvia. There are plenty of fish and other birds that Eerik brings to the nest. Eve carefully conceals them and keeps them fresh in the straw around the rim of the nest-like an old fashioned ‘ice box’. What they have had to contend with are intruders and lingering cold weather to the extreme. It is especially important because the eaglets cannot thermoregulate their temperature. They depend on Eve and Eerik for everything. Many mornings Eve has woken up to be completely covered in a cold frost. I am really looking forward to these two growing up. Look at the little one put its wing around its big sib. This is such a peaceful nest. Eve keeps everything under control.

Eve feeding her two growing eaglets. 7 May 2021

There are so many bird mothers whose lives need celebrating if for nothing else than they successfully raised their clutches. It is not easy. Humans have impacted their lives in so many ways it would take an entire blog to list them but climate change and its impact on prey, loss of habitat, plastic in the oceans, toxins, etc come to the top. I cannot even begin to create a list of all of those. If I continued to include images and write ups for the mothers, the blog could easily include Harriet at the Bald Eagle Nest in SW Florida in Fort Myers. She is just an amazing mother to E17 and E18. Those kiddos are well equipped to take on the world. Then there is Anna, the first time Bald Eagle mother, who had to learn along with her eaglet how to feed her baby properly. Kisatchie has thrived and is now branching on his nest tree in the Kisatchie National Forest. On the Mississippi River, the nest of Starr and the Valors was destroyed last year by the winds. Starr had to work with Valor I and II to build a new nest for the 2021 season. They built an amazing nest and now have three growing eaglets. Or what about the female at Duke Farms who spent the entire incubation period encased in snow? Her two eaglets are now branching. Diamond, the Peregrine Falcon, in Orange, Australia still has her seven month old fledgling living in her scrape box. Her patience is amazing and her and Xavier have raised a formidable falcon! What about the Osprey females who lay eggs and raise their little ones in nests so full of toys and blankets they often cannot even find the chicks. This year, Harriet at the Dahlgren Nest, lost one of her eggs in Jack’s deliveries! They probably deserve a medal every day for their good humour. Then there are the ones, driven by their instincts and ‘Mother Nature’ that want to be mothers so badly such as Jackie at Big Bear or Iris at Hellsgate? If certificates were given out, they would all receive them – every single one of them!

Here is Iris bringing in a whopper of a breakfish for herself. Iris is the oldest living osprey in the world – the grand dame of all Ospreys. She has fledged no less than 35-40 osplets – no one really knows for sure, that is just an estimate. Since the death of her trusted mate, Stanley, Iris has returned to her nest every year during breeding season. Her current mate, Louis, has another nest and another mate and Iris is now, by default, a single mother. Her natural instincts bring her back from her 4,000 mile migration to her nest in Missoula, breeding with Louis, and because she is both provider, incubator, and security guard – like Milda and Spilve – her clutches have not been successful. Her last fledge was a single osplet in 2018. Still she is there doing her best!

And Happy Mother’s Day to Maya on the Rutland Mantou Nest whose first osprey egg of the season hatched at 15:23 today, 8 May. You can just see the little one getting out of its shell.

Thank you for joining me today to appreciate the difficult circumstances each of our bird mothers face. There is a story for each of them! They are all much loved.

Thank you to the following for their streaming cams where I get my screen shots: LWRT Osprey Project, Cornell Bird Lab and Montana Osprey, The Eagle Club of Estonia, Cornell Bird Lab and RTH, Latvian Fund for Wildlife, and the Achieva Credit Union.

Four eaglets…really? and some Sunday nest hops

There is a conservation zone in Wisconsin on the Fox River near Kaukauna. There are four healthy eaglets in a Bald Eagle Nest in that zone – four! Just look, they appear to be getting their thermal down. My goodness those parents are busy! Amazing. I always get nervous when there are three. How do you coordinate feeding four?

There are four! 24 April 2021

Down in Fort Myers, Florida E17 and E18, Harriet and M15’s eaglets of 2021, are enjoying playing in the pond this morning. They had baths and had great fun splashing one another. That pond is near their nest and the Pritchett family stocks it with fish for the eagles.

Wow, This is fun. Their first taste of water. 25 April 2021

The egg on the Big Sur California Condor Nest of Phoenix and Redwood Queen is pipping. The Ventana officials say that it takes 2 to 3 days from pip for hatch, if all goes well. Keep watching! The little condor started using its egg tooth yesterday to work its way out.

Pip started 24 April 2021

The downpour during yesterday’s storms over Savannah and the Southeast US have given way to a cloudy dry day. The two little eaglets on The Landings Nest on Skidaway Island were kept warm and dry by Mom. Here they are enjoying their lunch today.

Lunch and the two osplets are healthy and hungry. 25 April 2021

There was an intruder or intruders at the White-Tailed Eagle Nest near Durbe, Latvia today. The winds are blowing and it is 1 degree C. Mr Cips has brought in food for the little ones but, for the most part, he has been protecting the nest while Milda has been incubating. It is so cold the little ones can’t be left out in the weather long or they will get hypothermia.

Mr C is protecting nest from the intruders.

There is still no sign of Aila at the Loch Arkaig nest. Local spotters have seen Louis with another female at platform 1 mating. Louis has also been bringing fish into that nest. A slim version of Aila – that had everyone wondering and comparing photos – appeared at the Loch Arkaig nest with the camera (below). Louis did not bring her any fish. He attempted and failed at mating twice. I wonder if this beautiful nest is going to be empty this year?

Beautiful nest feels so sad when it is empty. 25 April 2021

The following nest news is wonderful. When Ospreys are ringed and fledge making their first migration to southern Spain or Africa (more likely) it is an arduous journey. The survival rate varies but no more than 50% make it. Normally the juveniles will stay there for 2 or 3 years before returning to the UK.

For the birds that are ringed people wait patiently – sometimes forever – for news of a sighting. At Loch Garten near Abernathy, Cairngorms National Park, Blue AX6 was spotted with an unringed female. Blue AX6 was ringed on 1 July 2016 at Glen Affric. He was the only survivor of the nest of three at that time. This is the first reported sighting of Blue AX6 since he fledged. Just splendid.

Loch Garten is one of the important nests in the history of Osprey introduction. The nest was opened to public viewing in 1959. The belief, at the time and promoted extensively by George Waterston, was that an educated public would help protect the Ospreys. 14,000 people visited the site that first year during the seven months it was open. The most famous and formidable Osprey on that nest was EJ. She fledged 25 osplets off the Loch Garten nest in fifteen seasons. She was 21 years old in 2019 when she did not return from migration. Grass grew on the nest with the hope that a new pair might locate here. Fingers crossed for 2021 -.

This is EJ in 2018. Gosh, she is beautiful. Those dark eye markings are amazing they way they dip and go down her shoulder to her back.

@ RSPB

The image below was taken yesterday. It is AX6 and the unringed female. Oh, there will be so many cheers if they stay and raise a family! Thanks to Mary Kerr who posted this on the Friends of Loch Arkaig FB page.

Loch Garten might have a new couple. 25 April 2021

And everything is pretty much as usual at the Achieva Osprey nest in St Petersburg, Florida. The nest and the chicks survived the winds from yesterday. Typically, Tiny Tot grabbed the first fish delivery of the day at 7:53:53. He protected himself and got some good bites.

My fish! Tiny gets the first delivery of the day. 25 April 2021

Six minutes later, 8:03:21 one of the older siblings (I think 2) got its talon in the tail and took the fish away from Tiny. That was a good lesson. 2 hasn’t bothered earlier but Tiny will need to learn to dig his talons in that fish and stand on it like 2 does.

Tiny Tot lost its fish to 2. 25 April 2021

Mom will take the fish from the older sib and Tiny will be watching. Tiny grabs a bite meant for 2 and at 9:13:27 mom feeds Tiny.

Tiny Tot enjoying some of the fish. 25 April 2021

He has a little crop.

Diane went fishin. She brought in a catfish with its head on at 12:01:22. You can always tell if Diane catches the fish because Jack always eats the head before he delivers dinner.

Diane caught a catfish for the kids. 25 April 2021

Tiny Tot will be fed from 12:28:34-12:54:49. Tiny will also command the carcass which he is still eating at 2:02.

Two other interesting things happened on the Achieva Osprey nest this morning. Chick #1 is now hovering. 6:50:44 They need to practice their take off and landings – it is amazing watching the Ospreys and the Royal Albatross hover.

1 is hovering. She has been flapping and Tiny Tot has his head down for protection. Too bad helmets aren’t issued on these nests! 25 April 2021

That chick had a grand time! This chick is also the one who stands at the rim of the nest and extends her wings to catch the air. It is lighter in weight (or appears to be) than 2 and more interested in flying than eating. Just a beautiful strong Osprey. Lovely.

The second thing was an intruder or two – Blue Jays. I caught one of them flying by the nest at 8:01:53.

Blue Jay is flying out of the frame on the left. Been tormenting the nest all morning. 25 April 2021

I will close with two more images of the Achieva Osprey Nest. The first one is Tiny Tot with food coma (totally oblivious to anything 1 and 2 are looking at) and the second shows you how healthy he is beginning to look.

Wow. Flying. Let’s do that soon!!!!!!! 25 April 2021
Tiny is in the middle. He is getting really healthy and confident. 25 April 2021

Thank you so much for joining me today. There could be a hatch at the Big Sur condor nest tomorrow. I will keep you informed. Stay safe, stay warm. Smile.

Thank you to the following for their streaming cams where I grab my screen shots: Achieva Credit Union, Latvian Fund for Nature, Ventana Wildlife Society, Explore.org, SWFL Eagle Cam and D Pritchett, Loch Garten, Wooldland Trust, People Postcode Lottery, Cornell Bird Lab and Skidaway Audubon, 1000 Islands Conservation area FB, Loch Arkaig FB, and the RSPB.

When you just think it can’t get any better, it does in Bird World!

Two miracles so far today.

Saturday morning started out like any other on the Achieva Osprey Nest. Jack brought in a fish and sibling #2 got it. It was predictable. As I sipped my coffee it seemed that Diane and Jack really needed a meat saw somewhere to cut those fish into chunks so each of their three chicks could have a nice chunk for breakfast.

There they are: #2 with the fish on the front left, #1 behind mum, Diane in the middle, and Tiny Tot smiling out at us with his sort of ‘beard’ on the right front.

#2 sibling loves for Mum to feed it and for some reason she didn’t get the message that you should stand on that fish and mantle if you don’t want to lose it.

Tiny, looking all innocent, decides he will just edge a little closer to that fish.

Gosh. I would have loved to be inside Tiny Tot’s head for the split second it took him to steal that fish from the big sibling that has caused him so much grief in his short life.

He must have been so excited as he worked to mantle and pull that fish over to the side.

Could sibling #2, the biggest on the nest, really believe that Tiny Tot had taken her fish?!

#2 must be thinking, ‘What just happened?’ Clearly, Tiny Tot is not nearly as intimidated by #2 in the last few days as he was earlier.

Maybe Diane told #2 that she would never be able to fly if she kept on eating so much! I honestly don’t know what happened but #2 didn’t beat, bonk, battle. Maybe it was still full from the night before.

The two older sibs are 52 days old by my counting. Fledge watch begins at 60 days. And remember, fledging is just the first flight. It doesn’t mean they are gone forever. They have to perfect their flying skills and fishing. You can expect to see Diane and Jack supplementing their fishing, too.

Wow. You can’t get much cuter than those fluffy little marshmallows over at the UC Berkeley Falcon Cam. That fourth egg is sitting there. Maybe it will be a threesome for Annie and Grinnell. They are so cute and growing so fast. There is a third one, tucked between the two.

The cam at the Big Sur California Condor nest is solar powered and it is currently down. We have no idea what is happening with that egg of Redwood Queen’s and Phoenix. Will report back later.

It is hot in Wales and Mrs G has been doing some food calling from the Bywyd Gwyllt Glaslyn Wildlife Nest. Aran came in but there have been intruders about. Hopefully he will get her a nice fish before the sun sets. She must be awfully hot on that nest.

Arthur is on incubation duties on the Red Tail Hawk cam so that his mate, Big Red can have a break. It’s a sunny 18 degrees in Ithaca, New York today. It is a nice change from the snowy-hail these two had the other day.

Toni Castelli-Rosen has kept a laying and hatch chart for Big Red. It was posted on the Cornell Hawk Red-Tail FB Page today. I don’t think they will mind if I share it with you.

Looks like it won’t be long til we are on pip watch! Can’t wait. These two are the most amazing parents and in the entire world there are only a couple of RTH cams. We are so privileged to get to watch their lives unfold.

And before I close, another miracle. Milda, Raimis, and step-dad Mr Cips, have two! That second egg has hatched. I was told the time was 20:30:34 on the 23 April. Oh, aren’t they adorable! I hope the older sib is kind to the little one.

All of us are tired of the pandemic. I don’t even like to say that word anymore. The birds have brought us such joy. It was nice to begin the day with the Tiny Tot miracle and end it here in Latvia with the second hatch for Milda. She believed in those eggs – enough to not eat for eight days. I am so grateful for Mr Cips who has brought in food and even fed the little eaglets. Milda has a new mate that will support her. Tears.

Thank you for joining me. It is a cool but sunny Saturday on the Canadian prairies. Take care everyone.

Thank you to the Achieva Credit Union, Cornell Bird Labs and the RTH cam, Latvian Fund for Nature, Bywyd Gwyllt Glaslyn Wildlife, UC Berkeley Falcon Cam for their streaming cams. That is where I picked up my screen shots.