By Jeff Dequattro, Nature Conservancy Coastal Programs Office, Alabama
UPDATE, JULY 6, 2013: If you see an empty nest: Both Ossie and Aubrie have been leaving the nest for fairly long periods, but returning, sometimes with a fish, sometimes with a parent with a fish (and getting fed). We expect these out-of-nest periods to lengthen as the birds mature — for now, at least one of the birds is still sleeping in the nest.
UPDATE, JUNE 26, 2013: Osprey will fledge (leave the nest) anywhere from 52 to 60 days after hatching. Any day now Ossie and Aubrie will start leaving the nest on experimental flights where they will learn to hunt and survive on their own. This doesn’t mean that they’ll be away for the whole summer – typically, the young birds of prey will stick around the nest an additional 3 to 4 weeks while they learn to be adults.
Allie laid three eggs over the course of 2 to 3 days starting on March 28. The incubation period lasted for 36 days until the first egg hatched on May 3, with the second egg hatching during the early morning of May 4th. The third egg did not hatch, unfortunately, however this isn’t abnormal. We’ve all watched over the past 54 days as Bama brought up to six fish per day at some points to feed the three nest-bound ospreys.
There are some new neighbors in town, and I can’t stop spying on them!
Allie and Bama recently moved to Orange Beach, Alabama. They live on prime real estate in this pristine beach town along the northern Gulf Coast. The climate is sub-tropical, grocery shopping is close-by, and the commute to work is more than manageable. They utilize locally sourced food for nourishment and have recycled building material for their humble abode. Their family is healthy and quickly growing with the arrival of two new offspring.
Allie, Bama and their newborns are not your typical beach-town family. They are birds of prey, called osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and in late spring this spring, The Nature Conservancy and our partners installed a camera to monitor their activities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
We have been invited into the home of Allie and Bama, and it has been the best unscripted reality show I’ve ever seen!
Ospreys are typically social animals that are seen all over the world, including populated coastal areas. They build their nests near hardy supplies of fish and in open, elevated locations that allow for a safe approach by air. Artificial platforms, like the one Allie and Bama have adopted are important for providing safe harbor for rebounding populations of ospreys. Ospreys also tend to build nests on other manmade structures not intended for this purpose, such as telephone poles, electric transformer boxes and channel markers, which can be unsafe for these animals and cause a nuisance for critical infrastructure important to humans.
What can you see on the Allie and Bama osprey camera?
Bama, the patriarch of the family, brings in several fish a day from Perdido Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, both of which are less than a mile away. Bama brings mostly striped mullet (Mugil curema) to share with the family.
Allie (aka: Mom) takes over by tearing small chunks of the fish and feeding them to the eager chicks who are straining their necks and wrestling each other for a chance to get a tasty morsel of fresh sashimi. Once Mom and the chicks are finished, Bama comes back and cleans out the nest. You’ll notice that the nest is very well kept and free of discarded fish carcasses.
Allie rules the roost — she sticks around the nest almost all day to keep the hatchlings warm, fend off predators like owls and ensure everyone’s belly is full. It’s easy to tell the difference between the parents. Allie is noticeably larger than Bama, and she has brown spots around her neck, like a necklace. When Allie stands up, or takes a short flight around the nest to stretch her wings, you’ll see the two chicks sleeping or wrestling with each other.
You may be asking yourself: Why should I care about the osprey?
The survival and proliferation of this osprey family is rooted in a healthy and resilient ecosystem. Consisting on a diet of almost exclusively fish, they tend to live near large bodies of water where their primary source of food is plentiful. For that reason, the presence of ospreys is often viewed as an indicator that something is going well in the environment. It means there are fish that are big enough and virile enough to support a healthy balance of predator and prey interactions. Allie and Bama have food sources for their young in nearby Perdido Bay as well as the Gulf of Mexico. Their presence in this area indicates that fish are plentiful enough to keep two large adult ospreys and two rapidly growing juveniles healthy.
They are just cool! They are the only type of hawk or eagle that dive all the way into the water to catch fish. They dive feet first and catch fish with their sharp talons. They also have a reversible outer toe that they use to point their fish head-first, which makes them more aerodynamic during the flight back to the nest.
Ospreys have made a dramatic comeback since their sharp decline between 1950 and 1970. The United States’ ban on DDT in 1972 is largely thought to be the reason for their comeback. This apparent change in populations and health over that period of time has implications for ospreys’ sensitivity to the environment. If ospreys are declining, then the health of the resources they depend on are also in decline.
I encourage everyone who reads this blog to view the camera and participate in the upcoming baby-naming contest that just started! Watch Allie and Bama throughout the summer and share our excitement with watching the two hatchlings grow like weeds. This is a rare opportunity to be intimately involved in the lives of wild animals.
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