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.

Will Spilve revitalize the Latvian Golden Eagle nest?

It has now been five years since a Golden Eaglet fledged from this nest on an island near Spilve, Latvia. The people of Latvia were so hopeful that Virsis and his new young mate, Spilve, would raise a family last year. The pair met in 2019 but Spilve was not yet an adult and it was in 2020 that the two mated and Spilve laid two eggs. Everyone watched with great hope. One of those was fertile but, the other hatched. That little eaglet was named Klints.

In the image below prey has arrived at the nest for the beautiful Klints.

Virsis brings a bird to the nest for Spilve to feed Klints. 12 June 2020

A tragedy came to this nest when Virsis disappeared leaving Spilve to care for both herself and the young eaglet. Spilve could not leave her baby and travel a long distance to get large prey and the small voles that she could find for Klints close to the nest so she could protect him were not enough food. He died of starvation on 1 July.

For several days Spilve tried to feed her child until she realized he had died. How sad. First her mate dies and then her first child. We know that birds mourn. This must have been very, very difficult for Spilve. She returned to the nest on several occasions but no one, at the time, knew if she would stay ‘loyal’ to the nest of her mate, Virsis, or leave the area.

Everyone was very happy when they saw Spilve arrive back at the nest in January 2021 and again on several occasions in February. On 21 February Spilve arrives at the nest. She brings some pine and begins working on what appears to be an egg cup.

All the time Spilve was on the nest working on the egg cup, she appeared to be looking around for someone. Calls could be heard in the forest.

Spilve leaves and then an adult male comes to the snowy nest bringing some pine. He had never been seen on the nest cam. He has just missed Spilve.

Grislis comes to the nest on 21 February bringing some pine boughs.

The male eagle, who will become known as Grislis, actively works on the egg cup.

Grislis working on the egg cup. 21 February 2021

Spilve had to have been looking to meet with Grislis at the nest. It would be strange behaviour for a stranger to show up with pine and immediately begin working on a nest cup as Grislis did. The pair form a bond and mate that day. The pair might have met in another part of the forest where Spilve roosts. Or was it just coincidence that they both came to the same nest that day, worked on the egg cup, and then immediately became interested in one another? We may never know the answer to that question.

What we do know is that the Golden Eagle is one of the rarest birds in Latvia. These beautifully feathered eagles are slowly rising in numbers. There were, in 2018, only eight to ten known breeding pairs in existence. This means that for Spilve to find an adult male as a mate is fortuitous. Her first mate, Virsis, had been alone for many years when he met her.

In 2020, Spilve laid her first egg on March 28 and her second on 1 April. We are hoping that she will be laying eggs in that nest cup soon. It would mean that this new bonded pair and their love could bring new life to this manmade nest in the middle of an island near Spilve, Latvia. There are known to be two other nests in the bog near this one and it is possible that they could choose to use one of those. Whichever nest Spilve and Grislis choose, it will bring much joy to the people of Latvia when their eggs hatch and the eaglets fledge increasing the numbers of resident Golden Eagles in Latvia.

Spilve brings some pine to the nest on 25 March 2021.
Grislis comes to the nest on 1 April 2021.

There are no eggs yet but if Spilve is going to use this nest we should be expecting her to lay them any day now. Here is the link to the Golden Eagle cam on the manmade nest in a bog near Spilve, Latvia:

That is beautiful Klints. He was so very near fledging when this father went missing. Because the eagles are so rare, the wildlife authorities in Latvia might want to reassess their reasons for nest interventions in such circumstances. There have been such instances with the osprey in the United Kingdom and the authorities at Rutland decided to build a food table near to the nest in the hope that it would help the mother and the chick survive.

Thank you for joining me today. These are such gorgeous eagles. I will update you on any eggciting events should they occur.

Other news of Latvian Nests: Milda, the White Tailed Eagle on the Durbe Nest, stayed for days without eating after her mate did not return. There are three eggs. She seemingly left the nest for a break and food on 1 April but now it appears she was protecting the nest. She has not eaten for six days. There is a male hanging around the nest. Only time will tell if Milda will accept him and if he will help her raise the hatchlings should they survive. Right now she seems him as a threat to her eggs.

If you would like to watch this nest, here is the link:

Thank you to the LVM Klinsu and Latvijas Juras erglis Durbe streaming cam. That is where I accessed my screen shots.

Waiting

Everyone seems to be waiting for something today. Those that follow the nest of Big Red and Arthur, the Red Tail Hawks in Ithaca, NY, are waiting for the second egg to arrive. Meanwhile, Big Red has been restless all day – on and off the nest. It has been like a revolving door, slightly surprising knowing her inclination to not share too much incubation time with Arthur. The skies just opened and Arthur is on deck keeping that precious egg dry and warm! The rain is pouring over the lens of the camera making Arthur look like a smudge. He is anything but a smudge today. Between 7am and noon, he was on the nest incubating five times – 5! I stopped counting after that.

Isn’t he gorgeous? Five years old and a great provider and dad.

Early this morning, around 8:30 the winds were whipping and Big Red got tossed. Last year this happened and an eyas went flying with her. Let’s hope that she is OK.

It takes some time for new parents – birds and humans – to understand how to take care of their little ones. When the two very young parents had their eaglet hatch on the Kisatchie National Forest nest, I thought for certain that eaglet was going to die. It couldn’t seem to stop bobbling, Mom tried desperately to feed it, and Dad kept stacking up the fish. At one time there were 18! If I remember correctly it was on the third day that the little one and mom figured out the proper angles so the little one could grab the fish. Now, that is all history. Kistachie is a huge, very spoiled only child of two very devoted parents, Anna and Louis. Kisatchie will never go hungry. It is always ‘please take another bite!’ from Anna. Kistachie has had mega food comas. They figured it out and all are thriving down in Central Louisiana on the shores of Kincaid Lake.

At the MN DNR nest, Nancy is waiting for the four year old dad, Harry, to figure out precisely what he is supposed to do. People watching the nest are waiting and worrying. Harry is amazing at security. He needs to learn that he has to bring fish to the nest and he will, after watching Nancy, figure out how to feed that little bobble head. Meanwhile, Nancy has, at times, lost a bit of patience,. And, on top of all of this, the second egg is pipping so, Nancy is waiting for another mouth to feed.

Only one osprey has arrived at a monitored nest today in the United Kingdom. That was White YA at Kielder 1A nest in the Kielder Forest. Everyone is watching the ones with trackers and waiting for more arrivals as April approaches.

It’s 4pm in St Petersburg, Florida and Diane is waiting for Jack to bring in a whopper of a fish for those three growing osplets. The trio had a fish at 8:50:13 and it looked like all ate and were ‘nice’ to one another. Let us hope that the next fish is really big and stability on this nest continues.

Another nest waiting for food deliveries is the Great Horned Owls who stole the Bald Eagle Nest on a farm near Newton, Kansas. It seems that snake has been on the menu today but the owlets are getting supersized quickly and Bonnie is hoping Clyde will come through with something larger! She waits.

I want to thank Elena for writing to me today thanking me for my post about ‘The Sadness and Hope in Latvia’. Spilve struggled to feed her beautiful almost ready to fledge Golden Eaglet after her mate went missing and was presumed to have died. To protect her eaglet she had to remain close to the nest but that meant little food. It broke the hearts of so many when beautiful Klints starved. Each of us struggles to understand.

And I want to thank you for joining me today. There is not a lot to report. We seem to be in a holding pattern today and maybe that is a good thing. I will post any updates on hatches, new eggs, and arrivals late today.

Thank you to the MN DNR, Achieva Credit Union, KNF, Kielder Forest, Farmer Derek, and the Cornell Bird Lab for their streaming cameras where I took my scaps.