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  • Writer's picturePam Narney

Fuzzheads?? Be On The Lookout!

May 11, 2021 Issue 8

April is the waiting month, but April is over!

Can you see the baby Osprey? Neither can I. Photo by J. Narney

It’s time to look for changes at the nest.

No matter how close the Osprey nest and no matter how visible, it is impossible to see any fuzzheads (baby chicks) in the first days after they hatch.

The earliest we’ve ever seen chicks was May 11. According to my estimates on Gracie’s egg sitting, we should have baby Osprey sometime around May 13. For her it’s been 28 days since brooding began. We should start to see some evidence of nestlings soon.

Look for these changes at your nest:

  • Mom and Dad stay around the edges of the nest, perch on the supports or are a bit removed from the action.

  • Their movements are delicate and precise, almost mincing, as they tread gently with talons turned under when they walk.

  • Mom stays at the nest more often, almost never leaving.

  • The pair defend the nest more fiercely.

These changes indicate that chicks have hatched.

When we see Gracie accept food from George, eat her share, rip off pieces, and bend her head into the nest, we observe feeding behavior which combines the savage ripping of the fish flesh and the gentle feeding of chicks. Her bobbing head heralds JOY. Although we can’t see any chicks yet, there is at least one in the nest.

What Osprey watchers notice first is movement, but what is it? Was that the wind moving sticks or did we imagine that we saw something resembling a nestling? Are we willing our eyes to see more? Something other than the parents is moving in the nest, but we can’t quite make it out.

If or when your close observation is rewarded, you’ll see more head than body, as the nestling flops around. Their fuzzy grey heads come in and out of view at frustrating rapidity. Now you see it, now you don’t: gyrating bobble headed bits of grey fuzz.

Fuzzhead directly under Mom's beak. Photo by J. Narney

Fuzzhead center stage. Photo by J. Narney

Fuzzhead stretching his neck for food. Photo by J. Narney

You’ll see their heads first because an Osprey’s neck is the strongest part of its body. The nestling needs a strong neck to drive its egg tooth through the shell and emerge.

"Most Osprey hatch within one or two days of pipping their shells. Like other birds of prey, they emerge as ‘semi-precocial’ young. This means that down covers most of their body, that their eyes are open hours after hatching, and that they can actively take food from their parents’ bill” (Poole).

About 10 to 12 days after hatching the chicks enter their ‘reptilian stage’ (Poole) which lasts another 10-15 days. As a scaly little black and grey reptile emerges, it’s easy to believe that these birds evolved from dinosaurs.

Osprey are over 50 million years old and exist in every continent of the planet but Antarctica.

Poole recommends Bjorn Kurten’s (1980) novel Dance of the Tiger, “…which suggests that Ospreys played an integral part in the cultures and myths of ice age Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal peoples.” Interesting.

At 10 days old the chicks can fight for food and eject feces over the nest’s side. Gracie must be thankful for that. She has been bound to that nest for over 30 days with few chances to bathe and no chance to clean the nest. She is unkempt and might have lice or other insects attached to her body not to mention bits of raw fish, fish scales, and other nasty stuff.

As the chicks grow, you’ll see their heads more often as they are fed. Then the count begins. One chick, two, or three? Four chicks would be front-page news.

The first born has an advantage and will fight to get fed first. If food is scarce, due to poor supply or too many chicks to feed, the siblings will fight amongst themselves.

In 2005 our nest had three chicks. They pushed and shoved each other when fish arrived. I had read about Osprey pecking each other, but had never seen it. I did not want to believe that my sweet Osprey babies would attack a sibling. Seeing is believing.

Sibling rivalry. Photo courtesy of Mary Wenz Photography

We saw the second smallest chick peck at the runt. After the Fourth of July fireworks there were two chicks, not three. Did the littlest one fall or was he pushed?

There is no way to tell. It gets mighty crowded in the nest, especially once the chicks discover they have wings and start unfurling them into their siblings' bodies and faces. WAP!

In a later year, we again had three chicks. The first born was a female who had the advantage of a day or two of feedings before the other two hatched.

This female dominated the nest and the feedings. She rarely let either of the two males accept food from Mom. We were worried that the males would die due to malnutrition.

DAD! Bring more food!! Photo courtesy of Mary Wenz Photography

Who gets to eat first? Photo courtesy of Mary Wenz Photography

They were much smaller than she was. Females are larger than the males, but this female got to be huge.

When it was time to fly, the two males were out early and began fishing for themselves. When the call for migration came, they were off.

The female chick finally had the nest to herself and all of Mom’s attention. But not for long. She cried, and cried, and cried.

She stayed behind and begged for her Momma’s attention.

In return, Momma left on her migration.

Dad stayed behind, for a while, as is the male parent’s habit. The rest of the bay’s Osprey left until that large female was the only Osprey left in Placid Bay.

She cried and begged all day. She could fly, but we never saw her catching fish. Her advantage had turned to disadvantage. One day she was gone.

Was this an example of parent’s unknowingly allowing one "child" to prosper because she was most forceful or most needy?

Anthropomorphizing again.

The female feeds the beak in front of her. She doesn’t intend to favor one over the others. But we take lessons from birds when we can get them.

From this point on, you’ll get never ending eye popping sights at the nest.

Special thanks to JKN and KPS for all of their much appreciated help!!!


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