Fifteen years running, and looking as handsome as ever, Opal and Oscar Osprey have returned from their winter sojourn in warmer climes! Yes, our favorite osprey couple, seasonal residents at the US Naval Academy since 2001, are back and building once again!
Our power-couple arrived last Sunday and immediately commenced building – from scratch, a nest for their family. (You may recall that their nest was destroyed last summer when the Academy replaced all the field lights around the football practice field. (See the July 19, 2015 post.)
I’ve worried all winter how the osprey, if they returned, could possibly build a nest on the slender poles and brackets that lift these new, LED lights into the sky. The project seems to me like building a stilt house using only one stilt and a crossbar — very precarious.
And really, I’m not sure they’re going to succeed. Oscar and Opal have been at this project for three days now with little apparent success. Five different light poles now appear to be sprouting headdresses, with twigs and branches poking out in all directions. And beneath each of those five poles scattered sticks and branches testify to the difficult task undertaken by these devoted birds as they attempt to gain a foothold for their new home on one or another of these precarious poles. I’m hoping one of these attempts will actually hang together, providing a base for the new nest.
The male osprey gathers the nest-building material, often tearing dead branches from trees as he swoops past. The female then weaves those branches into a sturdy nest, lining it with bark and moss to receive her eggs.
Regionally, the Bay osprey are laying eggs now. The nest usually holds from two to four eggs. And, gestation lasts five or six weeks before the chicks hatch. Since osprey often live into their mid-twenties, couples may produce 40 or more progeny during their reproductive lives.
So, Opal and Oscar need to get their nest finished; they have other important work to do.
This morning I was delighted to see that Opal was keeping up her strength for the task ahead, dining on a squirming fish, held fast in her talons. Osprey prefer live sushi. To accommodate their taste for wiggling meals, one talon on each claw turns in so they can grip live fish securely with four talons. Additionally, the pads beneath those talons are velcro-like; those hooks provide additional gripping power for the slimy scales. The fish, often 12 – 14 inches long, doesn’t have a chance of escape.
In the days ahead, I will watch anxiously to see if our resourceful couple succeeds in rebuilding the family home.
I’ll also scan the sky for the return of the younger generation, Pablo and his life’s partner, Pearl. (You may remember that Pablo is, I deduced, one of Opal and Oscar’s hatchlings. I concluded that since Pablo was the only young, male osprey Oscar had ever allowed to perch in his territory, the young bird must be familiar to Oscar, not a threat.) Pablo and Pearl, returning for their third year, have their work cut out for them too; nothing remains of their nest on the nearby Academy soccer field.
And so it goes, bird or beast or human, we work, we suffer, sometimes we fail and sometimes flourish. And, if we’re lucky, somewhere, someone is waiting for our safe return and rooting for our success too.