chick

No Chicks This Season

Missing egg on the Osprey Cam nest

Missing egg on the Osprey Cam nest

Well, we’re in a familiar place it seems. Much like our Eagle Cam nest, it looks like we won’t have chicks at the Osprey Cam nest this season. Our one egg was late in hatching, and then yesterday the egg disappeared, although the parents were still around. Some possible scenarios are that the chick hatched but died immediately or the parents realized the egg was not going to hatch and removed it or buried it. We didn’t see any crows on the nest, so we don’t think they came in to destroy it when it was left unattended.

One cam watcher felt that this year’s female appeared a bit different than last year’s female. If that’s true — that we had a new female — then it’s possible this was her first breeding year and that was the reason she didn’t produce a viable egg (our female last year fledged two chicks). Also, that might explain the one-egg clutch (the expected clutch size is two to three eggs). But whatever the reason, the chick was not viable.

Some folks might wonder if we could see a second clutch. It seems unlikely given that our parents incubated this egg through the entire incubation period (and a bit beyond), so it’s rather late for a second clutch. If they did have an egg that hatched, the chick would have lost an entire month of development time before migration, and it would put the chick at a serious disadvantage come September when the chick would have to migrate alone to South America, so maybe it’s best if they don’t lay any more eggs.

As for the parents, we expect them to hang around the nest for a while because they need to defend it, since it is their home and they want to use it again next year. Eventually we might see less of them on the camera, but they might still be in the area, keeping an eye on the nest to be sure another osprey couple doesn’t try to claim it (for next year). Normally the female osprey would migrate in August and the male would stay to help out the chicks, but since they don’t have chicks, I think both parents might start migrating south in August. Without any chicks to feed and protect, they could both get an early start on migration and possibly miss any hurricanes down south.

We plan to leave the cam on throughout the summer, just to see what kinds of birds show up at the nest and to see what our parents do. Thanks to those who were keeping an eye on the nest and the egg. If you plan to visit Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge during the summer, just a note that we do have chicks at some of the other nests along our Wildlife Drive, which you can drive, walk, or cycle. Below is a photo that Beverly Middleton (one of our volunteers) just took of a two-chick nest along the Drive.

Two-chick osprey nest along the Blackwater NWR Wildlife Drive

Two-chick osprey nest along the Blackwater NWR Wildlife Drive

So although our Osprey Cam nest was not successful, other nests at the Refuge will likely be fledging chicks later this summer and you can come and photograph them from the Drive. You can also visit the National Wildlife Refuge System website to find other refuges near you that might be hosting osprey families this summer. And if you’re interested in volunteering at a national wildlife refuge, consider joining a local Friends refuge group.

In addition to keeping the cam up, we’ll also keep the gallery open, if you want to submit photos of any interesting sights. Thanks again for joining us for another osprey season at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge!

Until next season,
Lisa – webmaster
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Categories: blackwater nwr, chick, eggs, osprey cam

Video of Mealtime

Two Osprey Chicks

Two Osprey Chicks

Our chicks are six weeks old and we’re happy to say that they seem to be doing splendidly (knock on wood). We haven’t seen any predators or threats to the chicks, and both chicks are getting plenty of food. In fact, they’re remarkably close in size and there seems to be no visible bullying or fighting at mealtime. After a couple seasons of problems on both the Eagle Cam and Osprey Cam, it’s very nice to have such a “dull” nest to watch. We hope it continues this way over the next few weeks, as the chicks work their way toward their first flight.

As you can see from the photos below, we have seen flapping from the chicks. At this stage in their lives, the chicks need to begin building up their wing muscles in preparation for flight, so we occasionally see them grip the nest with their talons (they need to be careful that the wind doesn’t take them out of the nest prematurely) and then open their wings and begin flapping. Eventually they’ll get to a point where they’ll begin to lift off the nest (also a time when they need to be careful to not get blown out) and hover a bit before landing back on the nest.

Osprey Chicks Flapping

Osprey Chicks Flapping

Back on the July 4th weekend, we captured the following video of our two chicks at mealtime. It was an interesting clip because of the unusual behavior on display. First, it was funny to watch the adult female practically mug the poor adult male when he landed with a fish. We don’t know if it had been a long time since he had last delivered a meal, but mom practically knocked him over trying to rip it away. Then oddly enough, she began mantling the meal (spreading her wings over it). You don’t normally see this behavior from a bonded pair, and when I saw it I wondered if maybe this wasn’t our resident male, but then I noticed a shadow pass over the nest and both parents begin calling out and looking up at the sky, so there must have been an osprey or eagle targeting the fish, and the female was doing her best to keep the meal safe.

In the next part of the clip you see the female feeding the two chicks. At one point, the chick on the right drops his food, and the clever chick on the left picks it up and takes it over to the side of the nest where he can eat in peace. Not long after this he goes back and swipes another piece from his sibling — apparently he learned that mom isn’t the only way to get a meal in the nest! Finally at the end of the video, the opportunistic chick returns to his mother’s side and begins eating the normal way.

One interesting thing to note about the chicks is how they’re maturing. When the clever chick is eating the piece he “borrowed” from his sibling, you see him drop it in the nest, but he picks it up and begins eating it again. This may seem like a small thing, but when the chicks were very young and they dropped food, they would wait for their parent to pick it up and feed them again — as if that was the only way they knew to receive food. So it’s interesting to see how the chicks are maturing and learning that they don’t need to wait around for the parent to “hand” them the food.

Since the chicks seem to be doing so well, we plan to open the Osprey Chick-Naming Contest later this week. We’ll keep it open for ten days and give our cam watchers a chance to submit their names for our two young birds. Keep an eye on the Osprey Cam page for the announcement.

Until next time,
Lisa – webmaster
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Categories: chick, fledge, osprey cam | Leave a comment

Pin Feathers

Osprey Cam chicks with pin feathers

Osprey Cam chicks with pin feathers

Our two chicks are a month old and they seem to be doing well. Since they hatched so close together, and since the parents seem to bringing in a decent amount of food, we haven’t seen a lot of intimidation or competition between the chicks, and they appear to be very close in size.

The chicks are definitely losing their woolier, darker down and are now getting their pin feathers. Feathers come from follicles (tiny bumps) that grow in rows or tracts on the bird’s skin. When the feather first comes out, it is rolled and protected inside a tube-like sheath that contains blood vessels, which nourish the feather’s growth. The bluish-coloring in the sheaths is blood; this is why they’re called blood feathers. You can see the blue sheaths in the photo below.

Once the feather has developed and burst through the sheath, the protective tube will fall away or possibly the bird will pull it off while preening. The blood vessels will have withered and the quill will be the white color we are familiar with seeing. Blood feathers are sensitive and if broken or injured, can cause severe bleeding and even death. When a blood feather is broken, it must be removed so the follicle can close and a new feather can be born.

Pin feathers up close

Pin feathers up close

In our last blog post, we talked about last year’s event when our chicks disappeared, which we believe was due to a predator. We also talked about the fact that we believed it was likely an owl. One of the reasons we thought that was because we have many bald eagles at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and quite a few ospreys, and we have never seen an eagle take one of our Osprey Cam chicks. But recently a bald eagle took two chicks at the osprey cam at Hog Island in Maine. The video is a bit upsetting to see, but even more remarkable is how quickly the eagle takes the not-so-small chicks. Looking at this video clip, it makes the possibility of an eagle snatching an osprey chick very believable. Maybe we’ve just been lucky that we haven’t seen much of it at Blackwater Refuge because the eagles have a lot of other food types to choose from.

Until next time,
Lisa – webmaster
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Three Weeks Old

Osprey Chicks at Three Weeks

Osprey Chicks at Three Weeks

Our two chicks are now three weeks old and life at the nest seems to be good. The parents are bringing in a decent amount of fish and the chicks are clearly growing.

Another thing that’s noticeable at this stage is the big white stripe that runs down their backs. If a predator was flying over the nest, the stripe would make it harder to see the chick, since the stripe helps the chick blend into the nest material.

At this age, the chicks are in their reptilian stage, which means their down has become darker and woolier. Osprey expert Alan Poole says this is a stage when “they are black, scaly, and often crouch at danger, reminiscent of their reptilian ancestors.” They do seem to spend a lot of time lying down in the nest, except at mealtime.

Another milestone we can’t help but recognize is June 23/24 is about the time that last year’s chicks were taken — likely by a Great horned owl or a bald eagle. Not long after our chicks disappeared, the chicks at a popular water nest not far from the Osprey Cam nest also disappeared, which seemed to clearly indicate a predator. In addition, one of our Facebook fans captured this photo of a Great horned owl not far from the two osprey nests, and we know for a fact that the owls live and nest at Blackwater NWR.

Great Horned Owl, credit: USFWS

Great Horned Owl, credit: USFWS

The Audubon Guide to North American Birds states that the Great horned owl is “Aggressive and powerful in its hunting (sometimes known by nicknames such as “tiger owl”), it takes prey as varied as rabbits, hawks, snakes, and even skunks, and will even attack porcupines, often with fatal results for both prey and predator.” Great horned owls are also known as one of the few animals that are a threat to ospreys because the owls can take out not only the chicks but also the mother osprey sleeping on the nest. Considering how large and powerful a female osprey is, that’s pretty impressive.

But before we get too down on the Great horned owl, it’s important to note that they do help control the rodent population. In fact, we probably wouldn’t want to live in a world where owls weren’t helping to control the rodent population.

Finally, for those who wonder how a large female osprey could fail to protect her chicks from a Great horned owl, we offer the following video that shows how difficult it would be. FYI: This is not for the squeamish.

Until next time,
Lisa – webmaster
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Categories: chick, reptilian stage | Leave a comment

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