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A Bird’s View from Winds Way | Ospreys

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August 3, 2020

Nancy Gilbert

It’s drizzling this morning – finally, after two months of almost no precipitation – and the Bay is calm. This must mean good fishing as there are two babies on the nest sharing a fish, another baby sitting in the oak tree outside our kitchen window struggling with a fish whose tail is still flapping, and mom is not far away in the same tree with a fish of her own! Yes, mom and babies are Osprey.

We’ve been watching this nest closely for almost 30 years and in the process have become attached (I’m sure inappropriately so) to each year’s family. But we’ve also learned a lot about this wonderful species too. The pictures you will see were taken through the scope set up in our bedroom, where we have a great view of the nest. Unfortunately, it’s a new scope as the one we’d had for 15 years was stolen during the 2019 Christmas Bird Count. This was completely our fault – we left the scope at the end of a small dirt road while we scouted songbirds in the shrubbery. On an early morning in late December we thought this would be fine. Sadly, we were wrong. But I digress.

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Samson standing in nest with Delilah sitting on an egg or eggs

“Our” Osprey have always returned around St. Patrick’s Day, and this year they arrived together on March 20th in a sure sign that spring was almost here. Samson, the male, usually arrives a few days ahead of his partner, Delilah, and starts adding small branches to the nest. As you will note, the nest has grown into a very substantial structure. In addition to dead branches, we see both Osprey fly in with clumps of grass, bits of black plastic, and the occasional tangle of abandoned fishing line. The later poses a life-threat as the line can wrap around an Osprey’s legs making it impossible for the bird to fly. Because early spring 2020 was so wet, our nest eventually sported a green lawn around the top edge followed by a garden of little daisies.

Ospreys mate for life but only spend the nesting season together. They migrate south to Florida, the Caribbean, and Central or South America separately to spend the winter months. Come spring, they will return to the same nest and once again raise a family. While they mate for life, they are not monogamous. We’ve often seen Samson in high dudgeon chasing off a visiting male and have heard stories of one male having two nests near each other. Ospreys can live for twenty plus years, but this is rare in the wild. We’re sure our nest has housed at least two different Samsons and more than one Delilah. If a mate dies, the survivor finds a new mate as quickly as possible, an essential strategy if survival of the species is paramount. How do we tell who is Samson and who is Delilah? Firstly, the female Osprey is larger than the male, a characteristic true of all hawks known as reversed sexual size dimorphism. Secondly, the female has a necklace of very dark feathers, probably best seen with binoculars.

Both male and female Osprey take part in incubation, with the female taking the greater part and being fed by the male. Eggs are lain asynchronously with 3 being the usual number. The eggs are incubated, according to our observations, for about 39 days. Once the eggs hatch, which takes place over a period of days in the order in which they were laid, they are fed regurgitant. The babies are covered in down when they hatch and are completely dependent upon their parents. They will go through 2 down stages and begin to develop feathers at about 3 weeks of age. It takes about 56 days before a hatchling is ready to fledge and until the last baby is that old, the female remains on the nest brooding, feeding and tending young while the male provides fish. Amazingly, it takes about 6 lbs. of fish a day to support a brood of 3. We’ve always been impressed with Delilah’s perseverance and have watched her sit through high winds, torrential rains, and even late spring snowstorms. This year, from the day she laid her first egg to the day the youngest bird fledged was a total of 104 days. That’s a long stint!

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Delilah feeding Dignity, Respect and Freedom

As you know, the Osprey population was decimated in the 1950s by exposure to DDT, which made the eggshells so fragile that they were not viable. The banning of DDT and the building of artificial nest platforms has led to a rebound in the population. Once again watching the aerial acrobatics of their mating dance and spectacular fishing dives is a treasured hallmark of summer for residents of both forks. There are years when fish are not abundant, in which case the youngest hatchling will not survive. This year we’ve watched 3 babies (Dignity, Respect and Freedom) take to the skies and join each other in what we call the Osprey Soaring Club. Last summer Samson and Delilah fledged 4 babies, a highly unusual occurrence.

As in past years, Samson and Delilah will leave for separate winter vacations sometime in early September. Their offspring will remain behind practicing flight maneuvers and fishing for themselves, with less and less time spent on the nest, for another month before heading south. Dignity, Respect and Freedom will migrate alone in what will be the most dangerous flight of their lives. We keep our fingers crossed that these young birds will not encounter an unexpected storm or other danger so that they will once again return to the North Fork. They will remain in a warmer clime for over a year before flying north to find a mate and begin the incredible process of raising a family for themselves. We are so lucky to be able to share this wonderful place in which we live with such magnificent creatures!


PS: Nancy was happy to report that after the storm on August 4, all three babies were seen together at the nest!

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The 3 babies with mom. One baby is practicing hopping to the other side of the nest, which is how they learn how to fly.

About the Author

Nancy Gilbert is a board member and a conservation easement donor — as well as avid bird enthusiast and master gardener. In December 2001, Nancy and her husband Richard Wines, donated a conservation easement to the Trust on their property, Winds Way, in Jamesport. This easement protects 9.9 acres of agricultural land as well as 1.7 acres of scenic beachfront woodlands and wetlands on Great Peconic Bay. Also protected by the easement are the facades of the historic buildings located within the 3.2-acre development area, including a Greek-Revival residence, an historic barn, and a mid-19th century one-room schoolhouse. You can learn more about Winds Way and its history on their website: windswayfarm.com

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Freedom sitting with mom on the nest -- a day before Freedom fledged

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