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  • Writer's picturePam Narney

Where’s Gracie? Laying and Brooding Eggs

Volume 2: Issue 5

Pam Narney

Can you find her?

Changes at the nest

Gracie is low in the nest cup-a deep depression in the center of the nest. We see a small part of her head and sometimes a bit of her tail. You can tell when eggs are present because the females stay low in the nest. They leave only to bathe, eat, or protect the nest. Even though the nest is close to us, we have to depend on osprey behavior to note changes.

Gracie in a closeup.

Early birds

George and Gracie’s chicks are early birds indeed- their first advantage. The earlier George and Gracie lay eggs, the earlier the eggs hatch, the earlier the chicks fledge, and the more time they have to practice fishing and flying techniques before they migrate.

Pairs that build a nest and mate later might be inexperienced juveniles, mates who lost a partner, or pairs whose nest was destroyed. Nest locating, courting, and building all lengthen the time before eggs hatch. Late hatching is a big disadvantage for osprey offspring.

George and Gracie arrived at last year’s nest. The nest grows and improves each year. It usually takes 30 days before they lay their eggs. The pair arrived on March 4, so George and Gracie are right on time. They are an established pair with a nest waiting for them.

Feathering their nest

The male is most involved in nest building, which is part of the courtship ritual. He brings sticks and fish to assure they mate as a pair. Gracie brings some nesting material, but George does the most work.

During the nest remodeling/courtship period, George and Gracie stand on opposite sides of the nest. Gracie must stay out of George’s way.

George with an impressive stick. Gracie is not impressed.

George is particular about his nest. Somehow his sticks and branches have formed vertical arches on both sides of the nest. He does not want this, probably because it interferes with landings.

How did I do that?

Over a period of days George tries to bend and move those Ikebana sticks -Japanese art of flower arranging- that often uses twigs. He wants them to lay down flat.

If I pull harder, I can move this!!

As they add sticks, the nest deepens. Some cups can be two to three feet deep. One of the largest osprey nests found weighed over 1,000 pounds. As egg laying time approaches, the parents bring softer material--mosses and grasses--to cushion their eggs.

Pack rats

So far, George and Gracie keep to sticks and moss, softer and flatter material. Many osprey are pack rats. Why? No one knows. One year our birds stole the neighbor dog’s beanie baby and stuffed it into the nest.

In this nest near Dahlgren, pack ratting is an art form. Count the extra objects: a brown stuffed bear or reindeer, a green rubber strap, a light green bag, a black plastic bag, and a green toy dog bone.

You can follow this nest on a live camera through Facebook at:

Easter osprey eggs

Osprey eggs are so colorful that collectors rob nests for eggs. The eggs of one female can be connected to her by the color and design.

Our Northern osprey lay between 3-4 eggs. They are usually laid 2-3 days apart with the third 3-4 days after the second. But different pairs in different nests have different results.

Gracie began brooding eggs on April 7.

All of our Colonial Beach osprey should be on the nest or laying eggs soon.

Care and feeding

From now on the male provides all of the fish.

George gets the head.

For the next five-six weeks, Gracie will not fish, since George provides all the fish. She is almost rooted to her nest. Gracie may lose 10-15% of her body weight during the brooding period. The male’s weight usually stays the same.

When George brings Gracie food, they trade places. She takes her fish to a close piling where she perches and eats. George takes over brooding for her.

Gracie gets the tail.

Sharing and caring

The transfer from one parent to another is touching and gentle. The arriving parent rocks slightly over the eggs, wiggling and shaking so the eggs are in full contact with their brood patches-patches of featherless skin on the underside of birds during nesting season. Both parents have brood patches which keep the eggs warm. Incubating continues.

Different pairs have different sharing patterns. In some nests the male incubates for a few minutes while the female feeds. In other pairs the male equally shares this task. Most parents fall somewhere in between.

Osprey also turn and rotate the eggs.

Because they are good parents, they never leave the nest unattended for long. If the male is fishing or chasing off threats, the female alone protects the nest. If she feels threatened, she will leave the nest to chase the intruder (other osprey, heron, jet skiers, and people in boats), but will not be gone for long.

Just about the time you think she has been gone too long, she is back.

Too close for comfort

"Of all the raptors, the Osprey is the one that can live most happily with modern man, if given a chance." Roger Tory Peterson

When the nesting parent stands up with crest feathers ruffled high and gives the alarm call, you are too close for their comfort and are interfering with the rearing of their young.

Give them the chance they need.

Doing the heavy lifting

George needs 30 minutes on average for a successful hunt. Twice he caught fish within minutes of his first dive. These fish were huge, probably catfish. He had to let one go because he could not lift it. It's a myth that ospreys die because they catch fish they cannot lift and cannot release.

On rare occasions osprey have lifted four pounds of fish. They usually lift two-and-one-half pounds or 25-30 % of their body weight. They weigh two-and-one-half to four-and-one-half pounds.


We have to wait five to six weeks for hatching.

When the eggs are about to hatch, osprey behavior changes again.

The parents stand on the nest edge and peer down into it. They know what's about to happen.

When eggs hatch, the parents remain on the edge of the nest, dip their heads down into the nest, and feed their chicks. This happens well before we'll see any chicks.

George and Gracie’s chicks have every advantage parents can give them for survival: early arrival, early egg laying, and early hatching.

The chicks should hatch sometime around May 7th.


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