March 19, 2018
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Plant identification gives ospreys more attention

By Chris Corio, Special to the News

Ospreys are a bird-lover’s delight. Unlike many other large raptors, they are largely unconcerned with human activity and build conspicuous nests out in the open, often near human habitation and highly-trafficked areas. Every aspect of their lives is easily observed, from courtship to nest-building to the fledging of young.

Even people unfamiliar with birds notice ospreys and remark on them. In a way, they are one of the ambassadors of the bird world.

There are many osprey nests throughout Maine. Around South Portland, there are at least three active nests, one of which is easily viewed, even without the aid of high-powered optics. The nest at Spring Point has long been famous; after the original was removed from an aging electrical pole and a new platform built expressly for the birds in 2004, the site has proven to be a successful location for the osprey to raise young.

This year, though, it gained additional notoriety.

Osprey will often line their large stick nests with grass or moss, even algae. The spring point nest has also included bits of lobster trap rope and plastic jetsam. This year, a sprig of green suddenly appeared one day early in the season. I assumed it was a small conifer twig with needles still attached, and didn’t expect it would stay that way for too long.

However, the sprig of green got bigger and greener. It was soon obvious that a living plant was growing in the nest.

People in the neighborhood offered their guesses as to what it was. I thought it was cosmos, but it hadn’t flowered yet so I wasn’t sure. Someone else suggested blue spruce; another person said dill.

The plant continued to get bigger and bushier, and small, white daisy-like flowers appeared. The overall effect was quite decorative and aesthetically pleasing.

The identification of the plant remained a mystery until one evening, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was watching the nest from her car. She had gotten a chance to view it through someone’s spotting scope, she said, so I asked her if she knew what was growing there.

“Oh yes!” she said. “I’m a painter and belong to the Society of Decorative Painters. I just painted that plant recently—it’s chamomile!”

Who knew osprey were herbalists and interior decorators?

Kidding aside, this gained the osprey more attention, and passers-by were constantly amazed at the appearance of the healthy flowering plant growing straight from the nest. It had plenty of fertilization, I guess.

Even without the appearance of the chamomile plant, the spectacle of the osprey parents raising their chicks has been a constant pleasure for me. I watched the female as she patiently brooded her eggs and was fed by the male. I watched the chicks grow, and their development has been nothing short of miraculous, especially considering the extended cool, wet weather we’d had. Very young chicks are unable to self-thermoregulate, so they are extremely susceptible to overheating or hypothermia. They depend on their mother to shelter them from the elements.

Now they are healthy and strong, and just about as large as an adult osprey. They may have already made their first flights, but will continue to return to the nest at night for awhile.

It’s hard to imagine them as they were weeks ago: strange, half-feathered, tail-less creatures with wings covered in pin-feathers; clumsy, ungainly, and alien. I wondered what they thought — if they could think — of those odd and so far useless appendages, which always seemed to get in the way as they flopped about the nest.

It was a treat to see their full feathers appear in all their glory, and to see the young birds exercising their wings and flight muscles. Standing on the edge of the nest, they’d stretch up on their toes and flap their wings, bobbing in place, not quite becoming airborne but not far from it. Oh, THIS is what these things are for, I could imagine them thinking.

This evening I watched as the male brought a fish to the nest. The sun was setting, creating a beautiful pink, gold and blue backdrop against which the osprey, with fish grasped in talons, was silhouetted as he flew toward the nest. The male deposited the fish and flew to a nearby perch, and the female began tearing small bits of meat with her beak, gently offering them to each chick in turn.

The fern-like leaves and small round flower heads of the chamomile plant nicely framed the scene. It was a perfect picture of tenderness, peace and tranquility.

Someone has posted their photos of the chamomile osprey nest on Flickr: go to

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