Osprey life abuzz near the ocean

Posted Aug. 21, 2008, at 11:14 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:27 p.m.

One of the benefits of living near the ocean, for me, is the increased variety of bird life I see and hear. I’ve particularly enjoyed almost daily views of osprey, which seem to be numerous in my area.

Quite often lately I’ve caught sight of osprey flying with fish clutched in their talons. And if I don’t see them, I hear them giving their high-pitched kees as they fly high over my apartment building on their way home from fishing.

There is an active osprey nest down past Spring Point Light in South Portland. The birds have built the nest on a human-made nesting platform jutting from the water in the middle of the small cove nearby. Small boats enter and leave the marina nearby, and many people walk the rocky shore and nearby pier with their dogs. All this activity doesn’t seem to phase the osprey, which have gone about their business of raising young in this location year after year.

During one of my visits, I got a great view of a nestling as it perched near the rim of the nest. The bird seemed to be all thumbs as it experimentally flapped its long wings, getting ready for the day when it would be capable of flight. I watched, amused, as the youngster tottered about, flapping clumsily, until it lost its balance and teetered forward onto its chest.

Osprey parents appear to be very solicitous and protective. An adult, perched on the outer edge of the nest, keep a watch over the youngster, and keened a warning whenever a gull flew too close. I’d also read that when osprey young first hatch and are still helpless and unable to move about much on their own, the adults are careful to tread with their feet balled up, to avoid stabbing the babies with their talons.

The tender and caring scene this conjures up never ceases to touch and amaze me.

I had only ever seen one adult and one nestling on the nest, but earlier last week, on a cool, overcast evening, I saw the heads of two young peeking over the rim of the nest, while again, an adult perched over them watchfully. More rainstorms were forecast for that night, and I wondered how the birds would fare. I was amazed the parents had been able to raise two young successfully so far; another pair of osprey, nesting near the Casco Bay Bridge, wouldn’t have been so lucky had it not been for a human’s helping hand.

As reported in the July 30th edition of the Portland Press Herald, a concerned passerby noted an osprey nest, containing young, that had apparently been blown off a piling in the Fore River during a storm. The good Samaritan called the South Portland animal control officer, and proceeded to help the officer pull the nest and young from the water.

Animal control officer Corey Hamilton was unable to find a wildlife rehabilitator who could take the birds, so he took them home himself and attempted to feed them mackerel. The young birds would not eat, so Hamilton realized he would have to return them immediately to the wild. He constructed a nest, contacted the Coast Guard, and with their help, built a platform on a piling in the Fore River and attached the nest to it.

He placed the young birds in the nest and watched as one of the parent birds swooped down to investigate. Soon after, he observed the parent bringing fish to the nest-the rescue a great success.

I thought about that when I went back to check on the Spring Point nest after another night’s deluge, and was delighted to see all was well. In fact, the young had fledged from the nest; one was perched nearby on a piling, while the other flew back and forth and attempted to oust its sibling from its perch. Finally it gave up and found its own piling, nonchalantly settling down to preen. Fluffy bits of down feathers still clung to the young osprey, giving them a comical, endearingly ragged appearance. A parent still remained nearby, ever watchful.

Such is life in Osprey Central.

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