Bird Watcher's General Store

Osprey Platforms Need Occasional Repair
09/18/09

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Dear Bird Folks,

I live in North Carolina and have had the pleasure of watching a pair of Ospreys return to a nesting platform every summer for the past nine years. Presently the platform is home to two chicks, both of which are able to fly. Today the platform's owner is taking it down because it's in desperate need of repair. That's fine, but right now all I can hear are the cries of the young Ospreys as they search for their missing nest. What do you think will happen to these babies now that they are homeless?

- Leslie, N.C.

You're the winner, Leslie,

Don't get excited; you didn't really win anything, but I have chosen to answer your question. For some reason I've received a bucket-load of Osprey questions this week and out of all of them I've picked yours. So you are kind of a winner. Why did I choose yours, you ask? I could say that I selected your question because it was much better than all the others, and you can believe that if it makes you feel good. But the truth is I selected your question based on geography. All the other questions were from local people and that can be a bad thing. Occasionally people aren't very happy with my responses and since my food taster is on vacation this week, I thought it would be better if I answered a question from someone 800 miles away. It's all about personal safety.

I'm really glad to hear that your local Osprey platform is being repaired. A few years back I wrote a column that discouraged inexperienced people from putting up platforms. Soon after that I received an e-mail from a guy who was upset because he thought I should be encouraging more platforms, not fewer. More well-built and well-maintained platforms are a great idea, but the last things the birds need is something that will collapse under the weight of a heavy nest or blow over during a storm. An entire breeding season can be lost if a nest comes tumbling down. Just like bird feeders and birdhouses, nesting platforms have to be maintained or they'll be doing the birds more harm than good. There, that's my soapbox speech for the day.

Right now you are thinking: "Fine. Fix the darn platform, but does it have to be fixed while the birds are still using it?" I have to admit it does seem like a bad time to force any young birds off their nest, especially young Ospreys. Ospreys have huge separation issues and hate to leave home. Even after they are able to fly, young Ospreys, like their human counter parts, regularly return to home to beg for food, to sleep, to do their laundry and to run-up their parents' phone bill. But not to worry; while the nest platform is down, the baby birds will simply fly to a new location, most likely a nearby tree, where they'll yell for food. If the parents' hearing is as good as yours is, Leslie, they will hear their babies' begging calls (those are the "cries" you are hearing) and will continue to feed them. And once the platform is repaired I'll bet the kids will come right back to it. From there they will continue to beg and the parents will continue to bring them freshly caught fish, and everyone will be happy...except for the fish.

I can understand why you might be concerned about your baby Ospreys, especially after hearing their begging calls. But don't let these little con-birds fool you. At this stage they probably can take care of themselves but are just too lazy to do it. When some young Ospreys aren't given enough to eat, they don't go catch their own food, but will instead fly off to a nearby nest and beg food from the family next door. Apparently adults can't tell their own kids from their neighbors' and will readily feed any bird that begs. Although it may seem as if the adult birds are being generous, they, just like human adults, are simply doing whatever it takes to shut the kids up.

On another topic: In last week's column I wrote about Buzzard Day in Hinckley, Ohio. I thought by doing so I would receive a call from the mayor of Hinckley, who would invite me to be the grand marshal in next year's Buzzard Day parade. Well, so far that hasn't happened. However, I did get a note from someone who pointed out that a Massachusetts town - with the charming name of "Buzzards Bay" - was not named after vultures, but for the many Ospreys that were nesting there when the settlers arrived from Europe. This fact reinforces a point that I made: in Europe buzzards are typically large hawks and not vultures. I'm only mentioning it because this is one of the few occasions that I actually got something right and I want to make sure everyone knows about it.

One more thing: Just as I was finishing this column I received a second note from Leslie in N.C. She told me that the repairs on the platform have been completed and the young Ospreys have indeed returned to it, just as I predicted they would. That makes two things I got right this week. How about that? Perhaps I don't need a food taster after all.



Artwork by Catherine Clark


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