Our Osprey are growing so fast. We can’t keep up with them.
Week One May 22 to June 5, 2021
Waiting to see the first fuzz head is nerve racking, and we haven’t seen one yet. We’ve been observing Gracie’s bending (feeding behavior) into the nest cavity. This behavior tells us that there is at least one chick in the nest and Gracie is feeding it. By marking her behavior, the first chick hatched about May 22. The 50-55 days of the nesting phase are finally over.
When born, Osprey are wet, weak, and helpless. Their eyes are open. They can actively take food from a parent’s beak. They are what the scientist’s call “semi-precocial young” (Poole) which means down covered. There is not much to see, but the occasional head, while Mom is feeding them constantly.
Their struggle is comical. Now we see more movement, indicating at least two babies.
Their necks are strong but their heads still flop around. Their legs don’t support them.
Wings or what I suspect are rumps pop up in the binoculars unexpectedly, which makes me laugh. When they are finished eating as much as they can, or as much as is offered, they all collapse in a pile into the warm protection of the nest and each other.
George brings another fish, after he has eaten his share. Gracie feeds herself and then feeds her chicks. Gracie will lose 10% of her body mass during the breeding season (umt.edu/osprey).
George maintains vigilance by standing out of the way and off to one side. I had never seen the male feed chicks before, but George fed his chicks.
So far, fishing has been great. George is doing a magnificent job providing fish for his family.
George and Gracie usually stop feeding chicks and settle down before dark. Tonight, Gracie was still feeding chicks after dark. Either that behavior is rare, or I didn’t notice it before.
May 29 We had a positive id of two nestlings.
Or maybe three. Not sure yet. They flop around so much that it is hard to count them, and they aren’t big enough to stick their heads up for long, like Whack a Mole. Now you see something; now you don’t. And often what you see you cannot trust your eyes to believe. Everything happens so fast.
Hunting and feeding consume George and Gracie’s lives.
Gracie tip toes around the nest to reach the chicks while using her razor-sharp beak to rip hunks from the fish George brings. She uses that same sharp beak to gently offer food to her babies. It is a tender and amazing sight. Geesner describes feeding as a combination of “savagery and delicacy, like feeding a baby with hedge clippers.” while trying not to step on them with knives attached to your feet.
Now they are sticking their heads up. I swear I counted three bodies, but no confirmation by observation yet. If there are in fact three, the runt gets leftovers if there are any.
June 2: Today the largest Osprey showed its conspicuous light tan streak down its back, a sign of growth and development.
They are changing too fast for me to chronicle all of it. That’s one week into the dazzlingly fast Osprey growth spurt.
Week Two May 30 to June 6
After 10 days the chicks are mobile, after a fashion. They struggle for food and poop over the side of the nest. The latter shows an athletic ability because they have to turn around, bend over, and let fly.
The reptilian stage lasts from 10-15 days. Their fluffy first down is replaced by a dense wooly down. Fuzzheads have turned into sock puppets with dinosaur heads. The chicks are black and scaly. They crouch low when danger is near, “reminiscent of their reptilian ancestors” (Poole). The nestlings can actively take food and get forceful about shoving their way to Gracie’s beak. When the largest is full, the next chick can fill up.
The first two chicks are developing at about the same rate. The last chick is days behind. I’m calling him Resolute.
He is determined to get his share of the food, so he stays close to Gracie. He shoves the other chicks out of the way toward the end of a feeding session. The two more developed chicks peck at each other.
Two chicks is best, in my opinion. Perhaps down through the ages this reproductive strategy of having more than two chicks has assured the survival of at least two chicks to keep the species going.
Three is doable, but with the last one hatched has fight to the death for food to survive.
The eggs are laid on different days and hatch on different days. As they grow their birth order and date are clearer: size and markings will help identify them.
The first nestling has an advantage over the other chicks. If she is a female, the advantage increases because she will gain weight faster than the males. Size and first feedings determine survivabilty and can make a first-born female queen of the nest.
June 3: Gracie is taking care of Resolute, as best she can. She is moving down the line from one chick to the next feeding them in order. The pushing and shoving only accelerates.
What a dilemma! Both parents are feeding which gives the chicks too many choices. One chick was feeding so fast that his first portion fell out of his beak as he struggled and opened his beak to get the next bite.
For a clear overview of the first weeks of an Osprey’s Life go to:
In the video you see people handling the babies. Only trained experts are allowed to pick up Osprey chicks.