Scientists in the Field
Spiral Notebook
Update on Montana Ospreys
by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
June 7, 2015
 
Update on Montana Ospreys
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My excitement about the publication of The Call of the Osprey is dampened by disappointing news. A few days ago, a hail storm swept through the Missoula Valley, destroying the eggs in ospreys Iris and Stanley’s nest. The eggs were on the verge of hatching, but the almost horizontal barrage of hail and winds over 60 mph caused the eggs to crack, killing the embryos inside. Such storms often bring down entire nests, but the spikes on the nest platform and the fine construction work of the ospreys kept the nest intact. The video record of the nest during the storm can be seen here.

I’m watching the nest on the web cam as I write this. Iris sits on the nest, watching the trains go by across the road. It’s a bright sunny spring day. Both birds have been coming and going from the nest since the disaster, but Erick Greene thinks they will return less and less often as time goes by. Unfortunately, it’s too late to start another family and raise the chicks successfully. Besides, once a female osprey starts incubating eggs, her reproductive system shuts down until the next spring.

To put this event into perspective, a pair of ospreys need to raise just 2 chicks that make it to adulthood and reproduce in order to replace themselves. In the last 8 years, Iris has raised 25 chicks to fledging, and 8 to 10 of them have probably survived to breed on their own, so she’s already done much more than replace herself. Iris’s previous mate was killed, probably by a bald eagle that nested nearby. Then along came Stanley. Stanley has proven to be an amazing father, bringing back fish for the chicks even when the water has been muddy and murky. There’s a chance the pair will break up, but they have had a very strong pair bond, and we all hope both Iris and Stanley will return next spring to raise another brood of strong, healthy chicks.

Meanwhile, at the Dunrovin Ranch nest, the male bird, Ozzie, was killed in late summer last year, probably by a bald eagle. This spring, at least two males have courted Harriet, and she has laid an egg, but she seems to be completely alone now. She must feed herself and leave the egg alone at times, so the chances of it hatching successfully are poor. The Dunrovin webcam at present can’t be accessed through the Montana Osprey Project site but can be found at www.DaysAtDunrovin.com.

Here are some other osprey cams you can watch:
http://www.chesapeakeconservancy.org/osprey-cam
http://www.alcoa.com/global/en/eco_alcoa/info_page/ospreycam.asp
http://explore.org/live-cams/player/osprey-nest

For myself, I’ll be back online in early 2016, waiting for these amazing birds I’ve come to love to return and have better luck raising their families. Life in the wild can be difficult—just in the past few years, Ozzie was killed by an eagle, a female bird on a different nest in Missoula was electrocuted, a chick with a transmitter was injured and died. We can hope that such misfortune doesn’t overtake “our” ospreys next year! The new good news is that Rapunzel, the chick with a transmitter who spent so much time wandering in 2013, appears to have found a mate and settled down in the Montana forest to start her own family.

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