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.
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.