Three’s a crowd … even in the Osprey world. I’ll get back to that thought in a minute.
There are two Osprey nesting platforms within three miles of our place, plus several others within ten miles. Last week, all of the Osprey returned to my local spots within the span of a few days. I marvel at the synchronicity of this migration.
A friend and I checked the various sites and found at least one Osprey holding down the twigs at each of these locations. My favorite of the group is the Burien nest, since this is the spot where I monitored and came to know the Osprey couple throughout the season last year.
I stopped by on Sunday to see if the pair had returned. Indeed, they had. Everything seemed on schedule and in order at the cell tower nest.
This is my [totally unglamorous] vantage point, using my car as a blind from a nearby parking lot. I know Osprey tend to tolerate humans well, but I’m still careful about my presence.
The Osprey were in homebody mode, huddling in the nest, calling out to each other, engaging in short mating displays. The male appears to be the same male as last year, with the banded right leg and similar plumage variations. I’m not sure about the coloration on the female. Her breast markings don’t precisely match the female’s from last year when I compare the photos, but I’ll need more photos.
The male repeatedly exercised his sky-high hovering and diving maneuvers, calling out to the female below. Although this is sometimes done with a fish in the hand, he was bare-taloned on this one.
A short digression on the fish thing: On a visit to Mendocino, back on our home turf, a coastal restaurant proprietor said to us, “you’re not from Mendocino until you’ve had a fish dropped on your head.” If this Osprey loses his grip, chances are the fish will tumble onto a car dealership or Starbucks umbrella.
The male Osprey flew off and returned several times. On the pass pictured below, he had a new small spot of what looked like blood on his breast. He seemed otherwise unharmed during the time I watched them.
The female joined him in the nest.
Since everything was a-okay at the cell tower nest, I was about to pack up and give them their privacy when I saw a wide span of wings landing in the nest. I didn’t remember the male leaving — but then thought I must have been too focused on the female through my lens. When I looked more closely, however, I saw this arriving Osprey had a loose primary feather on its right wing. Neither of my pair showed any feather issues.
So … enter Osprey number 3: Loose Feather. Based on the coloration around the neck, I made the assessment that Loose Feather was a “she,” but I’m not 100 percent sure.
You know the old movie tagline … “mayhem ensues”? That’s precisely what happened. It was Showdown at Osprey Cell Tower. Both the male and female of the couple repeatedly chased off the interloper, but Loose Feather was intent on claiming some stake at the nest.
All three disappeared for a while. Then, in my periphery, the female of the pair approached from the left and landed on the nest.
Not 30 seconds later, Loose Feather arrived from above, forcing the female Osprey into defensive mode.
The two females disappeared again, and while they were gone, the male returned with business on his mind. He had a new twig for the nest.
Loose Feather was right behind him and on the approach. She came close to touch down, then altered her course on the fly. She swooped over the nest where she was then joined by an angry crow who tailed her out of the zone.
I witnessed one more interaction at the top of the cell tower, when the female returned and Loose Feather made another approach at the tower. I decided to leave them be and check in with the couple next week. As much as I live for my moments with wildlife, I tend to worry too much about the animals I’ve come to know and care about. So, wouldn’t you know it, I got too invested in the outcome of the nest kerfuffle. I figure the “they’ll work it out” approach is usually best when it concerns them doing the things that come naturally to Osprey.
In the interim, I did a bit of research on nest territory issues, and came upon a piece by Lacie Hartje in a 2003 issue of WOS News (Washington Ornithological Society News). She described and photographed a similar series of interactions at Marymoor Park in Redmond, Washington.
This was my first time watching and photographing a prolonged interaction between three Osprey like this at a nest site. If you have relevant experiences to add to my knowledge base on this, I’d love to hear them.
One last note: There’s a new website from the Center for Conservation Biology called Osprey Watch. Osprey observers are free to post their observations and to note new or existing nests for the Osprey Watch database.