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  • Writer's picturePam Narney

Living on Osprey Time

February 2021: The Narney household is eagerly awaiting our first osprey sighting of the season. Ospreys migrate and return from South America to the Chesapeake Bay area every spring, at the earliest sometime in late February, but most often the first week of March.

For quite a few years our Osprey had been returning earlier and earlier. I reported this earlying up every spring on the Northern Neck Audubon Society list serve and wondered if climate change was affecting Osprey return dates. Bud Ward, who is associated with Yale Climate Connections, interviewed me about this change in Osprey behavior. You can read the transcript and listen to the audio of May 6, 2016 at

Until the title: One Virginia resident has noticed that Osprey are returning earlier and earlier to her nest each year.

Those earlying up dates were February 28, 2011, February 26, 2014 and February 25, 2016. February 2016 was the last early sighting. Whatever was causing our Osprey to return earlier, climate change, lack of food, deforestation (habitat destruction) or some other cause has ceased and our Osprey have returned to their normal arrival dates, the first week in March but no later than the second.

March 2021: Spring is on its ways and so are the Osprey. We hope that both partners have survived the winter and the migration. We are desperate to see if all is well, and if they will come back.

March 4, 2021: And yes, on Thursday, March 4, my husband sighted the first Osprey. To me this is a relief and gives me a feeling of pure joy because we will, hopefully, have another summer enjoying the activities and antics of the Osprey family on our nesting platform. It is also a sign that all is well with the world and life goes on, as usual. Osprey are on top of the predator food chain and once, like eagles, were almost extinct. Their comeback is a stunning survival story. As an indicator species what happens to the Osprey and the eagles often signals what is happening to the local area and the planet. And yes, I capitalize Osprey and not eagle, you will soon understand why.

Is this first Osprey the male? It appears so. He has no brown necklace (mottling) around his neck. That is not a sure sign, because some males do sport the necklace, but it points toward his maleness. He is our Osprey because he sits at the nest and then rests, observes, and waits on his usual nesting perch.

I would love to get tracking devices on both the male and female to follow their activities during the rest of the year and to follow them locally. One neighbor jokingly said, just climb up there and paint their tails different colors, then you will know if the same Osprey come back year to year. Not me! I do not want to get up close and personal with those sharp osprey beaks and their even sharper talons. Our female has a spot on her wing that shows a loss of feathers which exhibits as a white spot where it shouldn’t be, and their behavior also identifies them, but it takes careful observation.

So, if this is George, of the George and Gracie duo, he is back and waiting for his mate. But what is he doing? Occasionally he hunkers down in the nest and wiggles around, almost like he is making the nest cavity deeper. I haven’t noticed this behavior before.

March 10, 2021: Six days and no mate yet. I am getting worried that something has happened to Gracie. Meanwhile George has been nest building with a vengeance. Sticks, sticks, moss, and more sticks are added to the nest. Of course, like any female establishing her home, Gracie will rearrange the moss and sticks to her specifications once she arrives. And she will keep rearranging until she feels she has the perfect arrangement for her chicks.

March 14, 2021: Finally, Gracie arrives. What a relief! Now we can tell that George arrived first. Gracie has the necklace and is much bigger than George. She also has the white spot in her feathers, so it is our Gracie. He brings her a fish, and begins mating. Not exactly dinner and a movie, but basic Osprey behavior for a bonded pair. A pair of Osprey will almost always return to the same nest each year. They are more loyal to the nest spot than sometimes to their mate.

Warning to newcomers/weekenders to Colonial Beach: If you have property on or close to the water, especially with a pier and boats, come and visit regularly during the mating/nest building season-March. Once Osprey select and begin construction on a nest site, be it your boat, your pier, or the chimney of your house, they will come back every year. It is best to prevent them from building a nest by removing the sticks and erecting barriers, or you may not be able to use your property over the summer. Once Osprey have an active nest, eggs and/or chicks, it is illegal to move the nest.

Welcome the osprey. Make peace with nature and live in harmony. Osprey nest watching is better than tv!!


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