Banding Osprey, Part II

Osprey chicks can be too old to band, because as they near fledging, they may jump off the nest site prematurely to get away from the human who has climbed up to borrow them for a moment. If they aren’t actually ready to fly, this can lead to broken wings. This one, however, was a perfect candidate for banding, still a few weeks away from fledging but big enough to take the band (which our cousins across the Atlantic call “rings”).These orange eyes will turn to yellow at maturity. This particular bird was the oldest of the eight chicks, perhaps a week from fledging. A lot more feisty then the white-stripped young ‘uns in our first nest, it drew blood from Julia’s arm. The pesticide DDT, applied for decades around the country and world, severely reduced the number of large raptors because it concentrated up the food chain. In the birds, it weakened the chemical composition of eggs so much that adult birds were crushing their own young. The eastern sub-species of the Peregrine falcon was in fact exterminated from the region before DDT was banned. Among several efforts to bring back viable populations of large birds of prey, one was the placement of nesting poles for osprey. Here’s one that was set up recently. It’s had no takers yet. So half a dozen of us went about priming the pump, most of us by looking for pieces of wood in the area. The idea is that when a nest-less bird shows up in the area next spring, he’ll find a partial nest site with no bird claiming it, and thus claim it themselves. Males arrive first: he can show off his nest site to a prospective female, and if they mate the pair can then build it further together. If all goes well, Osprey will return to their nests year after year. That’s Julia at the top weaving in some of the wood atop a mesh frame. Nests are about five feet across, and can get to be several feet high, especially if they used year after year, since the paired birds added to and repair winter damage. The birds will add all sorts of objects, often things found on the beach, like rope and fishing lures, to the nest. They line it with eel grass (there’s a piece of the dried grass hanging off the bird in the first image above). The most notable find in an island nest has been a Barbie doll.Voila! To let: a multi-million dollar view of the Head of the Harbor. (And none of the traffic.)
I could only contribute to one day of the planned two-day island Maria Mitchell Association Osprey banding mission. News from Osprey maven Bob Kennedy is that they banned a total of 14 chicks, out of the 30 youngsters they found. Thirty is a record number for the island. The others were either too young, or, mostly, too old to band. So this has been a very good year indeed. The previous island record number was 23. Last year there were only 8 chicks island-wide.

The intensity of the breeding season is winding down. In a month and half, these great raptors will start to head to South America. The young ones will be making their first migration, a journey of many hazards, to places they’ve never been before. The odds are stacked against them, which is why a robust breeding year is so important. I wish them luck. May they live long and prosper.

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