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  • Writer's picturePam Narney

First Flights and Sometime Landings

Blog 12 Pam Narney

Flight Log

Thelma flew on July 16. It was a short trip, just to the boat about 30 feet away.

When Thelma returns to the nest, Resolute and Thelma deflect her. Thelma doesn’t have enough experience banking and landing yet, so she lands however she can.

Louise and Resolute rear up to keep Thelma from landing on them. That makes landing in the nest even more challenging.

When Thelma does land back in the nest, after her third attempt. She teeters on the edge with talons hanging over the side, balancing. The nest is an uncomfortable place to be now. Too many crash landings and too many bodies.

To understand how Osprey learn see Gessner, at the end of this blog.*

Resolute, well, that is another story. He is treating Louise as Mom, cozying up to her while Thelma is out of the nest. Behavior I have never witnessed before.

Louise behind Resolute

Sibling Status

Louise flies two days later on July 18 and lands on a piling. Thelma tries to knock Louise off of her piling with a close flyby.

Resolute sits alone in the nest, hunched over in his usual fawning and obsequious stance. I am despondent. He does not exhibit many pre-flight behaviors like wing flapping, hopping, and hovering.

Gracie has been away from the nest for over 10 minutes, the longest absence so far.

Gracie brings a fish, Thelma and Louise storm in and fight over the food savagely, forcing Resolute to wait until his sisters eat their fill.

Food fight

Later that day, Thelma caught her own fish and returned to the nest with it. The three only know the nest and associate it with food. Bad move. When Thelma arrived with her fish, Louise immediately snagged it with her front foot talon. Thelma held on with her beak. Then began an almost comical version of tug of war.

Thelma, Louise and Resolute

Thelma, still number one, won the tug of war and safeguards her fish by spreading her wings over the fish like a cloak, mantling it.

Mantling is hunching, crouching, or arching shoulder blades and spreading wings over food of family. Gracie has in the past spread her wings over her chicks to shield them from the sun.

Day one after Louise flew, Resolute sits solitary in the nest. The three babies form a triangle with Thelma on our Pier, Resolute in the center of the triangle on the nest, and Louise to the right on our neighbor’s pier.

Food deliveries become more and more infrequent. Osprey tough love. Gracie flies around the nest teasing Resolute to fly.

At first, I worried Resolute would die early because he was not getting fed and was not developing. Now I worry that he will never fly and so will eventually starve anyway.

Resolute seems content to remain in the nest alone.

When Thelma and Louise try to land in the nest, Resolute chases them off. Now he is flapping his wings. Their encounters are fractious and crazed.

An example of sibling rivalry via birth order, Thelma #1 in the middle with the fish. Louise #2 on the left waiting, and Resolute #3 cowering and sounding his begging call.

For a graphic, detailed, and non-Disney example of sibling rivalry, check out Gessner on pecking order pages 187 to 191.

Day two I can’t locate Louise. She is in the water. By the time I react and find the net, she is on the pier again.

Trying to catch her with the net would be fool hardy and dangerous. Those talons can take out your eye. Only experienced and well-trained raptor rehabilitators should deal with live birds.

Day three

Day four

Day five George tries low dive fishing near the nest and misses. Thelma and Louise venture farther and farther from the nest. Thelma is a natural graceful flyer. Louise flies but can’t stick the landings.

A few years ago, the first Osprey that fledged couldn’t make it back to the nest. We couldn’t find her. Then located her on the neighbor’s roof while her Mom called to her. The parents tried to herd her back toward the nest, flying close by and encouraging her, but she hung on to the roof, for two days.

On the neighbor's roof

Then we lost sight of her for several days and watched the water to see if her body would float by. Certainly, she must have died.

Surprise! It took her a week to get back to the nest, and it wasn’t her nest that she landed in. Three doors down from us was a neighbor’s nest. Poole documents other instances of nest switching, which he calls making the rounds (Poole p.11).

Four chicks?? I though there were only three.

Day six

I feared waking up to a dead Resolute in the nest.

Day seven Resolute flew. That little brat!

Finally Resolute commands the nest and eats an entire fish on his own.

Occasionally one, two, or all three of the babies will be in the nest, but for the most part we have to hunt to see them in other spots. Resolve has grown, and when they are not together, it is almost impossible to tell them apart. As Resolute grows, it is apparent that he is a female too.

Our nest is empty ninety per cent of the time. Nothing to see.

Gracie watches from the trees.

The skies of Colonial Beach should be filled with this year’s crop of Osprey, but the sky is surprisingly quiet. If anyone has knowledge about the scarcity of Osprey this year, please let me know.

* How Birds learn--Gessner explains that “experience sharpens instinct”. For insight into the ways birds, especially long-lived birds like Osprey who are “smarter”, learn: instinct, habitation, conditioning, trial and error, and experience see Gessner’s Return of The Osprey, page 169. Gessner explains that avian “learning is governed by immutable genetic laws”.

Gessner, David. Return of The Osprey. ISBN 978-0-345-45016-6.

Poole, Alan F. (1989). Ospreys: A Natural and Unnatural History. ISBN 0 521 30623 X.


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