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.

What a day in Bird World!

Did something happen in the universe today? Something that made miracles happen?

The White-Tailed Eagle nest in Latvia was the first today. Milda incubated her and her missing mate, Raimis’s eggs for eight days without eating after he did not return on 27 March. She had to leave to eat and experts felt that five hours at 43 degrees F would cause the developing eaglets to die. But, there was a pip and today a hatch. Egg #2 survived! Just look at that little miracle below. Milda was helped, in the end, by Mr C, Chips. And that is another miracle – it does not always happen that a male bird will want to raise another male’s chicks but Chips did. Let us hope that he turns out to be amazing father and mate.

Milda looks at the miracle!

Birds have feelings. They mourn their dead and they can also get fed up and angry and that is precisely what happened at 9:32:40 on the Achieva Osprey Nest. Tiny Tot was fed twice yesterday. This morning Tiny Tot had no food because of #2 who has intimidated and bullied him. Yes, 2 is a bird and he is also a monopolizer of food. How would it feel always having to eat scraps? not being able to eat? having someone scare you almost to starvation? The two older siblings had been flapping their wings this morning and when #2 was in front of Tiny Tot, Tiny bonked him like he is always beating on Tiny. It had to be a moment of sheer release for the little one.

I have had just about enough of you. 21 April 2021
There you go! 21 April 2021

Tiny Tot got some food with the arrival of a second fish that came in at 1:07:24. He was eating a few bites at 2:07:25 and then again from 2:38:47-2:46:16. Diane offered him the tail. It isn’t enough but he ate! And if this nest were organized, Jack would be bringing in another fish right away.

Tiny Tot finally gets some food. 21 April 2021

At the SWFlorida Eagle nest on the D Pritchett farm, the youngest of Harriet and M15’s eaglets, E18, fledged today at 8:52:46—–in the rain! Yes, you read that right. His wings were wet and he fledged. E18 jumped around on the branch and the flew to a tree, returning to the nest tree. Later he flew and joined his sib E17 on another tree. Well done and congratulations E18!

He had a very good landing!

There are still two healthy osplets on the Savannah Osprey Nest.

Two little cuties having some lunch and being nice. 21 April 2021

And Big Red and Arthur don’t seem to be able to get a break in the weather. Today it was raining down hail like snow.

Big Red is encrusted in a hail like snow. 21 April 2021

Louis is still waiting for Aila to arrive.

Lonely Louis. 21 April 2021

There is branching happening at the nest of Bonnie in Clyde, the Great Horn Owls who took over the Bald Eagle nest on a farm near Newton, Kansas. It looks like it is Tiger up on the branch near mom, Bonnie.

Branching is happening. 21 April 2021

Thank you so much for joining me. It was a good day in Bird World. I remain hopeful that Tiny Tot will have as successful a conclusion as Milda with the hatching of an egg believed to be unviable by everyone. Look at her in the image above looking at that little miracle in the nest cup.

Thank you to the following streaming cams where I get my screen shots: Latvia Fund for Nature (Durbe), Cornell Bird Lab and Skidiway Audubon Osprey Nest, Farmer Derek, SWFlorida Eagle Cam and D Pritchett, Achieva Credit Union at Dunedin, Woodland Trust, and People Postcode Lottery, and Cornell Bird Lab and Red Tail Hawks at Ithaca.

A miracle happens in Latvia!

White-tailed eagles, Milda and her mate Raimis, worked on their nest near Durbe, Latvia, during February and March 2021. Their first egg was laid on 12 March, the second on 15 March, and the third egg on 21 March. Six days after the laying of the third egg, Raimis is missing. He did not return to help incubate the eggs or bring food for Milda. For eight days Milda went without food waiting for Raimis. During that time there were fights between other white-tailed eagles on the ground below the nest and once in the nest area. One of those was a male nicknamed Mr C. Mr C tried to incubate the eggs but Milda chased him away. Several times Milda left the eggs unprotected for several hours (one was nearly five hours) to find food for herself. Eventually Milda accepted Mr C who is now named Chips. Despite Milda’s strength and conviction in her and Raimis’s eggs, no one believed that they would hatch. Many just said she had been away too long in the cooler weather, 43 F, for the eagles developing to live.

This morning a miracle happened. Egg #2 laid on 15 March hatched on day 38. (Egg #1 is believed unviable). Here is an image of the little eaglet!

What a beautiful image of hope! Milda has a new mate who helped her incubate her eggs and who will raise Raimis’s eaglets. If egg #3 is viable, it should hatch in three days time. This is absolutely amazing.

Congratulations Milda, Chips, and Raimis! And to the people of Latvia who kept their hope that Milda’s sacrifices would be rewarded.

You can watch this amazing nest here:

Nest News

I am always grateful when someone introduces me to a new nest. And today, not only did Tiny Tot get fed for 45 minutes in a private feeding but two friends introduced me to two new nests. It feels like one of those days when you don’t know whether to cry with joy or go out and purchase a lottery ticket! And then something even crazier happened.

Everyone has their favourite birds. I have a friend who loves Ospreys because Ospreys don’t ‘eat things with feathers’. There are others who like songbirds and not raptors who eat them and those who like raptors and not songbirds. Most of us actually like all the birds – the question is how in the world do we keep track of all our favourites in a single 24 hour day?

It is possible that everyone else in the world knows about this amazing website. I lists all of the bird cams on the planet associated with each type of bird. Seriously! I came upon it by accident today. Here is the URL

https://www.viewbirds.com/

The birds are listed first by their common names. All you do is click on the name and you will be taken to the streaming cameras for that listing. For example, Northern Goshawk comes up with two cameras. One of those is in Riga, Latvia and the other is in The Netherlands. For my beloved Red-Tail Hawks there are four cameras. One is for Pale Male, the oldest RTH at 31 still actively breeding from his nest on Central Park. One is for Big Red at Ithaca, NY and the other two are in California and another in NY at Syracuse. I have not had time to check to see if there are any broken links but the ones I have checked are good. And I didn’t list the Osprey cameras in Germany and Poland. You can find them yourself. Have fun!

Oh, there is so much news. First, congratulations to SWFlorida’s Eagle Cam E17 who fledged on 14 April. The only question left is: will E18 fledge tomorrow. You will remember these two precious babies with conjunctivitis who spent five days in the care of CROW. Their parents are Harriet and M15. And it was E17 that got time out for being such a bully to E18! They are best mates. One does something and then the other. I think we can count on E18 feeling the wind beneath its wings tomorrow and if not then the next day.

Wow. These two have given so many people such joy. From the endless bonking as bobbleheads to their tug-o-wars with prey and now their branching and fledging. It would be magical if they had satellite trackers. Wonder where they will wind up traveling as juveniles?

E17’s first flight. 14 April 2021.

E17 has been flying around the nest today after its fledge yesterday. What a beauty! Congratulations E17!

If you follow the Latvian Lesser Spotted Eagles, Anna and Andris, you will be thrilled to know that they have returned from their winter vacation in Africa arriving back at their nest in Latvia at 7:06 am on 14 April. In the image below they are already beginning to work on their nest!

Milda. You will recall that Milda had three eggs. Her mate Raimis disappeared on 27 March. It is not known if he is severely injured or dead. As we all know, it is impossible for one parent to incubate, hunt, and protect eggs and the territory. Milda stayed on the nest and did not eat. Everyone was worried. Several intruders came around the nest and eagles were heard fighting on the ground. One of those males was nicknamed Mr C. Mr C even attempted to incubate the eggs on 10 April but Milda kicked him off the nest. That same day he helped Milda defend the nest. Today she allowed him to incubate the eggs. Still, it is not clear that she has accepted Mr C as her mate.

In the image below, Milda is getting off the eggs and Mr C is anticipating getting to incubate them.

Milda has been off the eggs for extended periods. She had to eat. One time was five hours and the temperature was nippy. It is highly likely that the eggs are no longer viable. Milda will hopefully have many more successful clutches.

What I find interesting is the acceptance of another male’s eggs by Mr C. It happens but it certainly isn’t the norm.

You can check out the action with Milda and her suitors at the Durbe nest here:

Everything is fine with the San Francisco Bay Ospreys, Richmond and Rosie. After a scare when a plastic bag landed on the nest there was much relief when it was gone. Rosie laid her eggs on March 24, 27, and 30.

It is almost 9pm in California and there is Richmond protecting Rosie and their clutch.

The Loch Garten Nature Reserve Cam went live today. You can watch the antics of a new set of Ospreys – maybe! Will keep you posted on nest takeover. Isn’t it a beautiful place?

Here is the link to the cam in Abernethy, Scotland:

What a beautiful nest! We need a family!

Before I get to the Tiny Tot update, I had a comment asking if Aila had been spotted enroute from Africa to Loch Arkaig. Unfortunately, Aila is not ringed so we don’t know! We are waiting like Lonesome Louis right now. Hurry and get home, Aila. We can stop chewing our fingernails then. Look at how much work Louis has done on the nest in the four days he has been home.

Louis has really been working on the nest! 15 April 2021

Tiny Tot Update. Jack brought in a whole fish at 3:21:46. Either he has found a place to fish in the night or he had a stash from earlier. Tiny Tot got a nice feed and at 6:236:20 he is flapping his wings and doing a ps.

Arrival of fish at 3:21:36
Tiny and one of the older siblings eating. 6:30 ish. 15 April 2021
Tiny and older sibling still eating! 15 April 2021

The arrival of the second fish at 11:55:01. Diane is having to pull it off of Jack’s talons.

Tiny Tot still has a crop from the early morning feed. Diane is feeding the older ones as he looks on – wanting fish, of course! He is in the growing stage while the others are slowing down. No sooner than Diane was feeding the chicks and there is an intruder alarm.

Jack and Diane are both on the nest to protect the chicks. Notice how the trio know to get down as thin as a pancake. And the plumage blends them right into the nest. Fabulous.

Everything is back to normal by 12:30. Let us hope the intruder goes away. Whole families of Osprey have been killed in other places. Stay safe Jack, Diane, and kiddos.

Thank you for joining me. It is not yet noon on the Canadian prairies and no doubt there will be much more news as the day passes. I will give an update tonight. There are a number of Ospreys moving up from the south of England and a Scottish Darvin ringed female causing some mischief. Let’s hope she gets home. See you later. Take care all.

Thank you to the following for their streaming cameras: Achieva Credit Union, SWFlorida Eagle Cam and D Pritchett, Woodland Trust and Post Code Lottery, Friends of Loch Arkaig, SF Bay Ospreys and Audubon, Loch Garden Nature Reserve, and LDF White Tailed Eagle and Lesser Eagle.