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Osprey Youngster on Arrival Day

An Osprey Story

This year has been an especially interesting and exciting one for the Osprey project at the Wickiup Hill Outdoor Learning Center (WHOLC), near Cedar Rapids, IA. We are privileged to have photo blind near the hack tower and enjoy observing as well as photographing Osprey activity.

The excitement started early this year when two Ospreys appeared at the nest platform between the WHOLC and the Cedar River. The male was identified as an Iowa reared bird by its band colors. The numbers could not be read from a respectful distance. Most males return to establish territories within 25 miles of where they fledged, after spending their first year and a half in South America. The unbanded female could have come from anywhere in the upper Midwest. They set up housekeeping on the platform and seemed to be tending a nest when one day the female disappeared from the platform. We had photographed them together on the platform a few days before this happened. The nest failed. Several days later the pair was seen along the river and were reported to be carrying sticks.

During the second week of July, five locations in Iowa received chicks from nests in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. In late June at Kissick Bog (the subject of our July essay), we met one of the Wisconsin DNR employees who helps remove chicks from nests. Chicks are taken at about 42 days of age. The folks who work on the ground (and up into the nests) are as responsible for the success of the hack sites as the many volunteers who haul fish and water up the ladders. Osprey have difficulty fledging more than two chicks so if there are two or three, all have better chances of survival when some are sent to reintroduction sites.

The five who came to Wickiup this year are strong, healthy and feisty. While getting their physical exams and color markings, their wonderful wild character was very apparent. Often Osprey chicks ?pancake? or flatten out when frightened to avoid detection. One of this year?s contingent ?pancaked? for the first week when volunteers hauled vitamin enriched fish and water up the tower, even though they could not be seen. However, the others seemed ready to take on most anything, as evidenced by the look on the face of the chick being held for color marking.

Gate opening day was bright and warm, just two and one half weeks after the youngsters arrived. Three chicks were standing in a row looking out as the gate opened; reminding us of the Scots children?s song: ?Three Craws Sat Upon the Waa?. One tilted its head back to watch the gate rise; one raised its wings immediately and launched itself without even some practice flaps; and the third just looked surprised. We, too, were surprised by what we saw but pleased that with both pressing our cable releases in rapid succession, we recorded most of the split second sequence.

We stayed in the blind for several hours watching the remaining four work up their courage. One, in particular, would come to the edge, flap awhile, look down, think better of it and back up. The size, beauty and power of the wings of the almost fledged are amazing. As it got warmer, the chicks retreated back into the shade. One took several noisy baths in the water pan. This allowed us to make a quiet getaway. Back at the car we looked up to see the two adults circling over the nature center with the fledgling. We watched spellbound, as the fledgling practiced take-offs and landings at the platform and in trees. The adults shepherded it and circled the hack tower.

Over several days, the others took to the sky and the new foster parents busied themselves assisting the volunteer feeders. They bring fish to the hack box and platform and are teaching the fledglings to fish for themselves. And at last, the male?s band was read. He was fledged from a hack tower 50 miles up the Cedar River (?as the crow flies?) in 2003. Another sign that the program is working and Osprey are establishing themselves on the Cedar. The next chapter will begin in another month when the foster parents lead the youngsters to South America. When they return, it will be to establish nests along the Cedar, or perhaps the Wapsipinicon, Iowa or Maquoketa Rivers.

? Linda & Robert Scarth, 2006.

First published in NatureScape News, 1 (9), 6, 2006.

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Linda & Robert Scarth


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