Ospreys offer hope where eagle pair failed

Posted April 19, 2011, at 6:24 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine —- For the fourth year in a row, it appears there will be no eaglets in a coastal Maine nest that viewers can watch on an online webcam.

There may be hope, however, at an osprey nest in Sagadahoc County that Internet users can see at the website of the Gorham-based Biodiversity Research Institute. A BRI official said Tuesday that a pair of ospreys laid an egg in that nest on Monday.

Live video of the eagles’ nest, located in an undisclosed site in Hancock County, has been broadcast online at the BRI website since 2006, when two adult eagles successfully hatched and raised two eaglets in the nest, to the delight of an online audience.

Bad weather is believed to have played a role in the nest’s abandonment last weekend. Patrick Keenan, outreach director for BRI, said Tuesday that no eagles have been seen at the nest for at least two days.

“It’s not looking good,” Keenan said. “They were doing a really good job until this last storm.”

Last month, for the first time since 2007, an eagle pair laid at least one egg in the nest. The known egg was laid on March 24, with another possibly on March 27, he said. Eagle eggs take about 35 days to incubate, he said, which would have resulted in the parents consistently sitting on the eggs until around April 28, if the nesting attempt remained viable.

The eagles remained in the nest during the April Fools’ Day storm, and again held fast during the cold rain that fell on April 13. The rain and fierce wind on Sunday morning, however, seem to have doomed the nesting effort, according to Keenan.

Interference from other birds may be a contributing factor, he added. The male was attacked twice by another eagle in the first week of incubation, which may have affected the nesting effort. Researchers are not sure, he said, but the mating pair may be young and new to trying to raise young.

“It can take a few years, for sure” for a mating eagle pair to succeed in hatching young, Keenan said. “It takes a little time and practice to get it right.”

No eggs have been laid at the site since 2007, when two chicks were hatched but died in that year’s Patriot’s Day storm. The female in the latest mating effort has a distinctive dark mark at the base of her tail, unlike the female from 2006 and 2007, Keenan said, and has been seen at the site consistently since 2009.

The main focus of the webcam project is to monitor the nest, he said, not to identify the birds, but it seems likely that both the male and female are different adults from those that laid eggs in the nest in the past.

“It’s very hard to tell,” he said.

Keenan held out hope, however, that the nesting pair of ospreys will be successful this year. That pair has laid an egg which, if all goes well, should hatch in mid-May, he said. Usually, they lay two or three, he added.

The ospreys’ nest is located on top of a pole at the Taste of Maine restaurant on Route 1 in Woolwich, Keenan said. Eagles can be sensitive to human activity near their nests, he said, but ospreys in general seem to be less so, provided their nest is safely out of reach.

“It’s kind of amazing how tolerant they are,” he said.

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