It took me a few minutes to comprehend what I was looking at. For several weeks now the osplets on the Port Lincoln Barge nest have been looking more like dinosaurs than fish eagles. But, this morning with the rain, their plumage looked much different. There was a strange white over the water so my first response was – the camera has a problem. Then the water was blue and the chicks were having their meal and well——.
Here they are lined up for the 12:36:06 delivery. Gosh, they had to have been hungry despite all those feedings yesterday. The weather must have hampered Dad’s fishing.
Still, there was no fighting. The chicks are all lined up as normal with Tiny Little right up at Mum’s beak! Oh, this kid really does love its fish.
So let us remember what we know about osplets plumage. When they hatch, they are covered with a very light greyish coat of down. You can see this in the image below.
It is 21 September. That was 22 days ago. Little Bob is 5 days old; the other two are 7 days old. Note the prominent dark eye line and the light soft down. Gosh they were so little! The hatchlings will keep this light coat of down from hatch until they are 10-12 days old, according to Alan Poole.
Oh, just look at Little Bob. So cute with that great big crop. He is the one closest to the viewer.
It is 5 days later. A darker charcoal coloured woolier down replaces that soft light grey down.
This is a huge period of change in terms of plumage. As the dark wooly down comes so do the feathers. The feathers show up first on the head and back and then on the body, later on the wings and tail. The feathers on the head and neck are a coppery-gold colour. This phase is called the Reptilian phase because they look more like their ancestors of 65 million years ago than the juvenile ospreys they are becoming.
You can see those coppery-gold feathers in the image below. The osplets are also growing at a fantastic rate.
The image below of Little Bob was taken three days ago. He was definitely in the Clown Foot stage! You can also see the dark grey wooly down as well as a few of the copper feathers on the back of his neck.
The image below was taken yesterday. You can see that the juvenile plumage is really starting to come in. It appears as little round tufts growing out of the blood quills.
In the image below, Little Bob is eating the prize fish tail. He is in his usual spot near the beak of Mum!
The image below was taken just a few minutes ago. I realize that feathers, like hair and paint, can appear darker when wet so use your imagination. It is as if a huge amount of juvenile plumage came in since last evening. Those feathers are really pushing out of those quills!
That is Little Bob at the very back. He is facing to the left and looking down slightly. He still has that spot and the white on the cere with the white swipe under his eye. Right now I can still find him but I might not be able to tomorrow.
In a blink. We will begin to notice considerable changes in their size along with the continued growth of feathers. The very last feathers to emerge will be the primaries and secondaries also known as the flight feathers. Only when all of their feathers have emerged from the blood quills will the osplets be ready to fly. We will know that when they really begin to exercise those wings and attempt hovering.
To give you an idea of the ‘look’ of the plumage and the size of the feathers I have included an image of Tiny Little, the third hatch of the Foulshaw Moss Osprey nest in Cumbria. This was taken on 24 August just before she migrated. Blue 463. Look at the length of her tail and the beautiful symmetry of her feathers. This is how the trio on the Port Lincoln nest will look by the time they are 50-60 days old.
As a reminder, Little Bob hatched on 16 September so he is now 26 days old. They have a long way to go but their plumage and their size are going to change right before our eyes. We really do not need to get our glasses adjusted! It is them, not us.
I couldn’t wait to show you those miraculous changes in the plumage of the three. It really is miraculous. Thank you so much for joining me. I hope to see you soon. Take care.
Thank you to the Port Lincoln Osprey Project and the Cumbria Wildlife Trust Foulshaw Moss Osprey Nest for their streaming cams where I took my screen shots.
There was a wee bit of a pip overnight at The Landings Osprey Nest on Skidaway Island near Savannah. At 3:45am the second hatch pulled itself out of the egg. By breakfast time, the little one was dry and ready to go!
No training necessary. Stand up at the rim of the egg cup near mom and open your mouth. 2 caught on quickly.
There is one more egg to hatch on this Osprey nest. Perhaps it won’t. Perhaps these two will not feel the hungry that starts the food competition and they will go big and strong.
Back at the Achieva Osprey Nest, a fourth fish landed at 5:22:37. It is a big bony one. Of course, 1 and 2 are eating but surely there will be food for Tiny Tot if Dad doesn’t come and take this fish off the nest!
The fish arrives. Already 2 has Tiny Tot in the corner.
2 wants to make sure that Tiny Tot knows it is not welcome to eat. And look at that crop 2 has from the first three fish.
Never mind. Tiny Tot is watching and making its way around.
At 6:13:59, Diane, the mother, leaves Tiny crying for food by the rim and walks across the nest to pick up a fish tail to eat. She has to be as hungry as Tiny is! Tiny Tot has been chewing on the bones – self-feeding if you like – but not enough meat there to matter.
Tiny Tot blasted to Diane at 6:14:34 and Diane pulls on the end of the bone and tail. By 6:15:49 there was nothing there. Tiny Tot got on a little bit of food, but Diane is also hungry. The others are too full and sleeping. If Diane is that hungry can we count on another fish for her and Tiny? or would she eat off the nest?
Even when there is only a scrap left, 2 continues to try and keep Tiny Tot away from any food, however small. Diane was back pulling the flesh off of a piece of bone and Tiny thinks he might get a morsel. 2 wakes up to stop him.
It is clear that neither 1 or 2 need any more food. If Diane and Tiny can eat tonight it will be very good for both of them. If another fish does not come until tomorrow morning then the cycle begins again with 1 and 2 hungry. We wait and we hope.
Thank you for checking in today. You get to see the full range of Osprey growth today – the just hatched and those getting ready to fledge. You can sure see the change from the tan wooly coat to the beautiful juvenile plumage.
Thanks to Cornell Labs for the cam at the Savannah Osprey Nest and to the Achieva Credit Union for their cam. Those are the sites where I grabbed my screen shots.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: