And You Thought The History Lesson Was Over…

Happy Thursday, everyone! The sun is shining and it is a comfortable 79 degrees. The only thing that could make this day any better is a Chesapeake Bay history lesson! In my last blog, I ended with John Smith and his two voyages during the 1600’s. Well, we are now in the 1700’s! Colonial population grows rapidly and agriculture expands. In the 1750’s, colonists strip 20-30 percent of the Chesapeake region’s forests for settlements. Twenty years later, the colonial population reaches 700,000+ and farmers begin to use plows. This is the beginning of a period of massive soil erosion.
Now, lets jump into the 1800’s! Oysters, Oysters, Oysters. Oyster harvests increased dramatically thanks to a new dredge system introduced to the Bay by fisherman from New England. This system was much more efficient and a dredge could scoop hundreds of thousands of oysters from their beds. During this time period, oysters were so abundant in the Bay that some oyster reefs posed navigational hazards to boats. Unfortunately, since the 1880’s, the oyster population has sharply decreased due to harvesting practices. More recently, low dissolved oxygen levels and disease have caused a rapid decline in oyster population.

A grab dredge used for oystering.

A grab dredge used for oystering.

If you find oysters interesting, check out this book: The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky. Although it is not about the Chesapeake Bay, it talks about the link between New York City and oysters.

Fun Facts About Oysters:
o Average lifespan: 20 Years
o Size: 3 inches to 8 inches, 5 inches is more typical in the Chesapeake
o Normally found on hard bottom surfaces
o Filter Feeders
• One oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day
• Poor water quality leads to stress of oysters, when the oysters are more stressed they are more prone to disease.
o In the mid to late 1800’s, conflicts between Maryland and Virginia oystermen who used different gear types escalated to deadly levels in a time known as the Oyster Wars.
Adios amigos, until next time,
Osprey Girl


A Very Special Evening With Our Very Special Osprey Family

Good evening from the warm and humid Eastern Shore!  After a rather uncomfortable day, the evening is lovely.  Although somewhat humid, the temperature has dropped and there is a gentle breeze blowing.  We are under a severe thunderstorm watch, but with only a 30% chance of storms in our area, the osprey family should have a restful night.  Earlier this evening, based on the Facebook traffic while the camera was down, I thought I might have to enter a new profession and start an osprey camera watching addiction and withdrawal clinic. The ospreycam was down due to a widespread internet service provider outage affecting Maryland and Delaware.  I hope all of you that had the shakes are feeling better now.

As you know, we follow the Conservancy’s Facebook page, and couldn’t help but notice a photo that was posted a little earlier this evening.  For those of you who haven’t seen the photograph, it is a spectacular image taken on Sunday night showing an osprey silhouetted by the super full moon, with the nest visible just under the moon.  Well, not to be outdone by that photo, which also appeared on the front page of the Annapolis, Maryland Capital (a wonderful local newspaper-if you live in this area you should really subscribe), I am posting a photograph taken by Crazy Osprey Man on Sunday evening from our very own backyard.  If you have been following our blogs, you may have noticed a recurring theme of enjoying happy hour on the end of our dock.  Another time honored social tradition in our household involves Full Moon Dock Parties, which occur every full moon during the outdoor season.  These parties have become a very popular social event amongst our friends and neighbors.  The only catch to accepting an invitation to one of these parties is that the attendees are requested (but not required) to howl at the moon as it rises in order to capture the true full moon experience.  Believe it or not, all of our guests usually participate (except for the teenage children of our guests, who are beyond mortified and embarrassed at the behavior of their parents).

This past Sunday was no exception to the Full Moon party schedule, especially since it was a Super Full Moon or perigee moon (the time of the moon’s closest pass to the Earth in any month which results in the full moon appearing larger and brighter than other full moons).  It was a spectacular evening after a day beset by on and off rain, clouds and wind.  After our guests arrived, ate, drank, howled and left, I began cleaning up.  When I looked out of my kitchen window, I saw the moon shining on the water with a dark sky above.  And to my delight, Tom was sitting on his favorite camera, Audrey was sitting in the nest, and chick heads were visible as well, all silhouetted in the light of the moon reflecting on the water.  I called to Crazy Osprey Man, who ran to get his camera and tripod.  He captured this image which we share with you now:

Super Full Moon shining on the water with Tom and Audrey on the nest-6/23/2013

Super Full Moon shining on the water with Tom and Audrey on the nest-6/23/2013

This might be a once in a lifetime photo for us.  Thank you, Crazy Osprey Man, for capturing this moment. We hope you like it!

A few more comments before I close for the evening.  The chicks are growing bigger and bigger.  Chester and Essie have some of their mature feathers growing in, and have been exercising their wings and independence.  Ozzie is really hanging in there, and although not as big as his older siblings, seems to be on his way.  We are entering one of my favorite phases in the chick’s development.  Over the years, I have named the upcoming weeks the “hop, flap, hover phase”.  You will see what I mean very shortly, and I guarantee that many chuckles are about to happen.

Thank you all for your continued excitement over our osprey family.  We are so happy that you are able to share in some of the joys (but hopefully not too many sorrows) of nature and our beautiful Chesapeake Bay.

Until next time, we remain,

Crazy Osprey Man and Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man


If you are enjoying the osprey camera and blog, please consider a donation to the Chesapeake Conservancy so they are able to continue supporting programs such as this one.  Go to today.  Thanks very much!


In The Beginning….

Happy Sunday! Osprey girl here. I figured today is a good day to take a walk down memory lane. I would like to share with you a brief history of how the Chesapeake Bay came into existence. Without the bay, our friends Tom, Audrey, Chester, Essie, and Ozzie would not be able to live in such a wonderful environment. Let’s start oh… 35 million years ago.

BAM. An asteroid hits the lower part of the Delmarva Peninsula, which results in a 55-mile wide crater. As time progresses, the sea level varies. Got it? Get it? Good! Now let’s jump to 10 million years ago. A sequence of ice ages lock ocean waters into major glaciers. During the warmer seasons, the ice melts into the headwaters of the Susquehanna River. The climate continues to warm and eventually a landscape dense with trees is formed. Paleo-Indians inhabited the region 11,500 years ago and with them came Clovis point arrows. Clovis point arrows were used to hunt mammoths, mastodons, sloths, and giant bison. Even today, when the tide is right, arrowheads can be found on my neighborhood beach. Collecting these ancient artifacts was a great pastime for me when I was younger! My family and I have quite a collection of these arrow heads.

Arrow Heads 2

Here are just a few of them.

Arrow Heads 3

The largest one we own is in the center, it is about 2 inches tall.

If you don’t mind, I am going to skip to the 1600’s.  Some of you might have heard of a man by the name of John Smith. This famed Englishman kept a journal and recorded his 2 voyages on the Chesapeake Bay from 1607 to 1609. During John Smith’s first voyage in June of 1608, he traveled north along the Bay’s Eastern Shore to the Nanticoke River and then explored its Western Shore as far north as the Patapsco River. In July of 1608, Smith and his crew set out on his last voyage, which ultimately led him to the head of the bay, the Susquehanna River. Here is a great link to National Geographic’s website which gives you a great visual of Smith’s journey (fair warning, there is a voice in the background in the beginning, I jumped a good mile when I first clicked it).|timePeriod=0|tourStop=0 

Here is some background on the Captain John Smith Trail from the Chesapeake Conservancy’s website. “The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail commemorates Captain Smith’s exploration of the Bay in 1607 through 1609, and is the nation’s first all-water National Historic trail. It provides a significant conservation, recreation and education resource that stretches over 3,800 miles and traverses most of the Chesapeake’s great rivers”. The Chesapeake Conservancy and the National Park Service are working together to establish a process for prioritizing conservation areas along the trail that are important to the visitor experience. Please visit the Chesapeake Conservancy’s website for more information about this initiative.

I have a few hundred more years to talk about, probably too much for this blog. So that’s it for today.

Until the next blog, adios amigos!

-Osprey Girl


Don’t Forget The Other Birds

Hello all, this is Osprey Girl. I am the new summer intern who will be working for the next two months at the Conservancy. My mission for this summer is to provide a wider view of the osprey’s world here on the Chesapeake Bay. I have been living on the Chesapeake Bay my entire life. I have been fortunate enough to witness the constant changing environment surrounding the bay which I hope to bring to you through my blogs.

The past few days were incredibly humid, even to the point where one could actually reach out and feel the air… you should not be able to feel air. Today the humidity was gone, the sun was shining, and there was a light breeze. Luckily, the humidity did not affect the behavior of the birds in the backyard. We have a myriad of birds living in our midst, including goldfinches (who are picky as to what birdseed they eat), mockingbirds (who try to be someone they’re not), hummingbirds (who entertain my cats from their feeder in the window), sparrows (who bully the blue birds), bald eagles (AMERICA!) and many others. I could write dozens of blogs on birds that live close to the ospreys, but it’s your lucky day and I will spare you all from that… this time.

feliz hummingb

Where is that humming bird?! He was here a minute ago!

This evening, a flock of undesirable resident geese swam by the osprey nest. I say undesirable because they should be in the north this time of year raising their goslings. Surprisingly enough, the ospreys and the geese are friendly neighbors and don’t pay much attention to each other. The ospreys and the Great Blue Herons, on the other hand, are not. Great Blue Herons are known to raid osprey nests and eat their eggs. When herons get near the osprey nest, ospreys aggressively protect their territory and are not afraid to attack the heron. I have witnessed an osprey dive bomb a heron and actually knock it out of the air and into the water. For those of you who have never heard a heron in distress, it is truly a blood curdling sound.

Fun Facts About Herons

  • Unlike the ospreys that mate for life, Great Blue Herons find a new mate each year
  • They can grow to be 3.2 – 4.5 feet
  • They are the largest heron in North America and can fly 20-30 miles an hour (faster than I feel comfortable driving)
  • Typically nest in colonies, but hunt alone
  • Their diet includes: fish, mice, and insects
  • They have been known to choke to death by attempting to swallow fish that are too large

    Until the next blog, adios amigos!

-Osprey Girl

Does Anyone Smell Wet Osprey?

Good evening from the very soggy Eastern Shore!  We received 3.25 inches, or 8 centimeters of rain this afternoon in a fairly short amount of time.  Our osprey family looked rather bedraggled and wet, but they should be drying out soon.  Chick #3 finally had an advantage over his older and larger siblings.  He/she could fit easily under Audrey and stay dry. Numbers 1 and 2 were hanging out from under mom, without much coverage other than their heads.  You have to take the good with the bad, kids!  The weather has rapidly shifted from very warm and humid to cool, dry and breezy.  The air conditioner is off, the windows are open and it sure feels good.

A couple of items of interest, then to the rest of Dr. Spitzer’s latest chapter.  Last night, two of our Facebook followers commented on being able to see the nest due to the moonlight, and then commented on some flashes of light that could be seen on the ospreycam.  There was a large thunderstorm passing to the north of us in Kent County, and we were able to see lightening flashes for quite some time during the evening.  Great observation, ladies!  On a clear night when the moon is full, you should be able to see the nest and occupants very well for most of the evening.

Around 1:00 p.m. this afternoon, Tom caught one of the biggest fish we have ever seen him catch!  We saw him fishing, and then trying to head back to one of his favorite dining spots.  He was struggling, and when we put the binoculars on him, we saw a huge fish in his talons.  Tom was close to landing in the drink with his catch, who was still flapping around, when he managed to get to the perch off the end of our dock.  The perch is about 18 inches across, and the fish was almost as long as the perch, probably at least a foot.  The fish had a very deeply notched tail, so we are taking an educated guess that it was a large menhaden. Tom had a few bites, and then the rains came. We couldn’t watch for very long, but are sure that everyone in the osprey family eventually had a good meal off of Moby Dick.

Starting this week, another writer will be sharing blogging duties with me. She is a summer intern at the Chesapeake Conservancy who has lived her entire life on the Chesapeake Bay.  In addition to filling you in on osprey activities, she will be writing about the osprey’s Chesapeake Bay environment and surroundings.  Her insight and perspective should enrich your reading pleasure.  I hope you enjoy her contributions to the blog.

Please don’t forget to vote in the “Name The Osprey” contest which closes tonight at midnight.  Our chicks will be officially named tomorrow on the Conservancy’s Facebook page.  Go to  Remember, one vote per person from the names selected during the Great Give.

Without further ado, please enjoy the continuation of Dr. Spitzer’s Ospreys Explained-Chapter #5 Osprey Population Dynamics or Life In The Osprey Garden:

During my 1980’s Chesapeake study I took a much more intensive approach, actually trapping the banded breeding ospreys.  This was a great deal of pleasant work, and it yielded far more detailed data, such as the age distribution of the trapped sample.  I spent the springs of 1983 and 1984 “fishing for ospreys”, which required patiently lingering in a johnboat on every creek and cove where they nested.  Thus I explored the coasts of Talbot, Dorchester, Caroline, and Queen Anne’s Counties, and trapped 156 banded ospreys.  Unknown to me, this was the beginning of the rest of my life in The Osprey Garden.  By my count, Jan Reese of St. Michaels, MD, had banded 2,779 nestling ospreys in the years 1965-1980.  Prof. Mitchell Byrd of William and Mary College and his students had banded similar numbers in tidewater VA during the same period.  This was especially helpful, because it enabled me to look at long-distance dispersal across and up the Bay.  Trapping along the Maryland Eastern Shore, I caught 16 breeding birds banded as nestlings on the Western Shore, VA or MD.  All were females.  I never trapped a male that crossed the Bay to breed.

One day I trapped a female on quiet little Leeds Creek, off the Miles River.  The band number was familiar: One of my own.  Scanning the Federal computer printouts, I realized I had banded that fledgling 11 years earlier in Connecticut, at the Millstone Point Nuclear Power Plant.  It was on top of a 75-foot pole in that industrial area; a very professional lineman lowered it down to me in a canvas bag.

One of my casual “findings” was that the closer you got to Jan Reese’s house on upper Broad Creek, the more banded ospreys you saw, especially males.  Broad Creek is a great, many-branched system off the north side of the lower Choptank River.  On a nautical chart, its wide main stem and great dendritic profile with many big side creeks make it look like the old Wye Oak.  It supports over 50 osprey nests, and careful survey of that colony on a torrid early-summer day is not for the faint of heart.

The age distribution of the trapped MD sample proved to be especially revealing and helpful.  There were surprisingly few 3 and 4-year-olds (9 total), 5-year-olds were common (21), and my second year of trapping found five breeding 7 and 8-year-olds where I did not have banded birds the previous year.  Considering the entire data set, I estimated the mean age of first breeding in this healthy, stable MD population to be fully two years older than in my 1970’s study of a remnant, low density population with abundant resources: 5.7 vs. 3.7.

Over the many years of his careful MD population study, Jan Reese counted active nests and fledglings, and published this data in scientific journals.  His overall figure for productivity (young/active nest) was 1.14.  This was after considerable nestling mortality and brood size reduction (chapter #3) had taken their toll.  But I also had to consider the impact of two more years of pre-breeding survivorship, estimated at 85% annually, on this productivity.  To get there, I multiplied 1.14 by 0.85 squared and got 0.8, a replacement rate similar to my previous northern study.  Normal nestling and adult mortality, combined with deferred breeding, yielded a balanced and stable MD osprey population.

Deferred Chesapeake breeding implies intense competition for experienced mates and good nest sites, and I often witnessed that during my trapping study.  In the brief period that I held one or both of the pair for processing, other ospreys would appear close by, sometimes attempting to land on the nest.  (I assumed the territorial mantle and shooed them off.)  In 37 cases, both members of the trapped pair were of known age, and that sample showed no statistical tendency for birds of similar age to be paired, no significant age correlation.  This implies that experienced survivors were recruiting new breeders to quality nest sites:  Once again, the “Osprey Culture” (chapter #2) was promoting the success of ospreys in humanized environments.  The surplus of potential breeders would also push ospreys to try novel nest sites, such as high microwave towers.  This successful adaptation is ongoing.

Ospreys’ relatively low replacement rate of 0.8, calculated from my years of study, has many implications.  It explains ospreys’ rapid and tremendous population recovery post-DDT.  This includes big breeding range extensions in man-dominated regions, and nesting “colonies” where abundant food and nest sites are available.  It also helps explain ospreys’ world distribution, breeding in much of the temperate northern hemisphere and Australia.

The quality of any scientific hypothesis is measured by the accuracy of its predictions.  We even have a struggling colony that proves the rule: “The Gardiners Island Anomaly”.  This 3,000 acre glacially-deposited island lies between Orient and Montauk Points, NY.  In much of the 19th and 20th centuries, it famously supported an osprey colony of 200-300 nests.  For the last decade, it has struggled to sustain about 20 active nests, despite intensive nest-site management.  Egg viability is fine, but nestling starvation is rampant.  Gardiners is surrounded by many miles of open bay and ocean water.  These marine habitats were a prime spring and summer destination for great quantities of migratory adult Menhaden, nurtured as juvenile fish in the Chesapeake and adjacent Atlantic waters.  When they reach Gardiners Bay, these densely schooling fish are nearly a foot long.  They filter-feed on plankton near the water’s surface, and are perfect prey for the osprey’s heroic dive.  A great memory of my 1970’s studies on Gardiners is male ospreys toting blunt-headed silver-and-bronze menhaden in to nests clustered on a great beach meadow, their long forked tails shining yellow and translucent below the working bird.

Gardiners ospreys began a successful post-DDT recovery, rising to 70 nests, but this failed coincident with the collapse of Atlantic menhaden in the early 1990’s.  There may be other ecological changes in the local food regime, but this “bioindicator” island osprey colony bears close watching.  In the meantime, the Gardiners colony manages to fledge about 0.8 young/active nest, and thus survives at a subsistence level.

Paul R. Spitzer

Windy Hill on the Choptank

May 24, 2013

Great chapter, Dr. Spitzer!  You are a true wealth of osprey information, and we appreciate your input.

That’s it for now from the slowly drying Eastern Shore.  Until next time, we remain

Crazy Osprey Man and Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man


If you are enjoying the osprey camera and blog, please consider a donation to the Chesapeake Conservancy so they are able to continue supporting programs such as this one.  Go to today.  Thanks very much!

Happy Father’s Day, Tom!

Good morning from the warm, humid Eastern Shore!  It is a lovely day, even with the humidity. My thermometer is showing 77 degrees, partly cloudy and quite pleasant for outdoor activities.  The water is sparkling and there is lots of activity from recreational boaters.  The big excitement since our last blog involved egg #4, which has broken and is no longer visible.  Dr. Spitzer was right on with his prediction that the last egg would not hatch.  The exact fate of the broken egg remains a mystery, even with all of our modern technology and a bevy of dedicated nest watchers.  Once again, Mother Nature has had the last laugh!

Tom enjoyed a Father’s Day fish on our boat lift this morning before heading to the nest. This is not his favorite spot to chow down, so I guess he is mixing it up a little today.  The most popular spot for Tom to eat is on our neighbor’s dock, specifically on the top of the swim ladder on our neighbor’s dock.  As I write this, Tom is sitting on the camera and looking around for his next source of sustenance. He does spend most of his downtime on top of the camera. Keep in mind that it is of utmost importance that Tom eat his fill before anyone else, as without him to fish and bring food back to the nest, none of the others would survive.  Audrey must also eat her fill before the nestlings, for without her and Tom, the nestlings would not make it for long.  Tom has been an exemplary father to his little osprey family, so we dedicate this blog to Tom and all of the other fathers out there.

We had some communication with Dr. Spitzer a couple of days ago, and inquired about the types of fish upon which our ospreys feast.  Dr. Spitzer advised that according to Jim Uphoff, a Maryland DNR (Department of Natural Resources) biologist, menhaden are the most prevalent fish consumed at our site.  According to Dr. Spitzer, other types of fish that ospreys will eat in this area are catfish (3 species), white perch, yellow perch, oyster toadfish (marginal prey as they are very well defended) and needlefish.  He did not mention rockfish (striped bass to those of you who don’t live around these parts), although one of our astute Facebook watchers was sure he saw a rockfish brought to the nest today.

Dr. Spitzer also had a comment about Chick #3 that I will share with you for informational purposes.  I quote Dr. Spitzer: “Whether the runt will make it may remain unresolved for quite a while.  Quite a drama.”  Dr. Spitzer has provided another chapter in his “Ospreys Explained” reports.  This one is about Osprey Population Dynamics.  It is longer than some of the others, so we will post it in two parts.  Here is Part One:

OSPREYS EXPLAINED,   by Dr.Paul Spitzer

 Chapter #5:     Osprey Population Dynamics, or “Life in the Osprey Garden”

 Ultimately, this is about the balance between reproduction (the “credit” side of the osprey ledger) and mortality (the “debit” side of the osprey ledger).  An increasing breeding population means ospreys are “in the black”, a profit of sorts.  A stable population is “break-even”, or non-profit.  A declining population is “in the red”, with a net loss of ospreys.

That’s what happened during the DDT era, when DDT and the related pesticide dieldrin snuffed out reproduction by destroying egg viability, and also poisoned some adult breeders directly, increasing the adult mortality rate (which is normally about 15% each year).  Local populations in heavily-contaminated CT and RI “crashed” at 30% annual decline, with almost no reproduction.  The Chesapeake was far more lightly and locally contaminated, so it fared much better, and was primed for the big osprey population growth we have recorded post-DDT.  The present-day Chesapeake is truly An Osprey Garden, with 3500 active nests.

Although stable, DDT eventually broke down in local ecosystems, and contamination was gradually reduced.  Then the fundamental question arose:  What level of reproduction is necessary for a stable population?  This break-even point is known as the  “Replacement Rate”:  It is a core concept in Population Biology, including that of human beings.  Several components of osprey life-history contribute to replacement rate.  They are known collectively as “parameters”, and some are easier to measure than others.  During the 1970’s, as osprey reproduction recovered, I undertook to make those measurements in the field, from the wild (but unwittingly cooperative) ospreys, combining them in a population model to estimate osprey replacement rate.  I did this with a decade-long field study on the remnant breeding population between New York City and Boston, which fell as low as 109 active nests in 1975 and 1976.  Pre-DDT, there were over 1,000 nests active in this region, where much DDT was used.  Today that population has mostly regained it’s numbers, and in some locales such as MA is far more abundant than previously (but see discussion of the “Gardiners Island Anomaly” that concludes this chapter).

 Osprey nests aren’t too hard to find on a populated coastline.  Every year I counted the active nests, and thus the total breeding population.  The 8-week nestling period enabled a total count of nestlings, with some help from volunteer Citizen Scientists.  (This participatory learning approach is in much wider use today.)  Most of the later counts were done by state nongame wildlife biologists (another innovation), with years of patient data collection.  “Reproductive Rate” is expressed as mean (average) number of young fledged per active nest (Y/AN), or “Productivity”. 

 These were blissful springs for a young biologist, with sea breeze in my nostrils.  I trudged over the firm peat of gem-like northern salt marshes, rode ferries to offshore nesting islands, ran ladders up high nest poles, ducked the talons of defensive female ospreys, trapped and color-banded breeders to measure their annual survival, color-banded entire regional annual “cohorts” of young, then watched with binoculars and telescope for their return as breeders later in the decade.  These measurements taken in nature required patience, accuracy, and sample size, because I submitted the population study in 1980 as my Ph.D thesis at Cornell University.  I had the privilege of directly living my work; as I have tried to do ever since.  I bonded intimately to that fine old historic post-glacial coastline, LI-CT-RI-MA, where various cultures of man have lived for millennia.  During a follow-up Chesapeake osprey study in the 1980’s I bonded to the Bay region; and I have now lived here for thirty years.  Study of living things gives benign and creative form to my own life.  And perhaps I have gained some ability to think like an osprey.

I estimated the replacement rate of both these osprey populations at 0.8 young fledged per active nest (0.8 Y/AN).  How did I get there?

 We need to return to discussion of fledging life-history (end of Chapter #4), and combine it with the very different roles of male and female breeders (Chapter #2).  The learning curve of fledging ospreys includes recognition of local nest sites, local habitat types, local prey species, fishing methods for those species, and handling methods for those species.  Catfish skulls, for example, are equipped with barbed, defensive spines that could potentially blind an osprey that fed too close to the head, or wound the feet of an osprey that held the catfish wrong.  When people ask me how ospreys catch catfish, I answer “very carefully”.

 Fledging male ospreys are going to be the providers of food for future breeding efforts, and their local learning period before their first southbound migration probably marks a critical beginning for their local foraging skills.  Females, by contrast, are going to be insulated from local resources by male provisioning  for needs to avoid inbreeding.much of future breeding seasons.  Thus it is not surprising that males tend to be “homebodies”, returning to breed in proximity to their fledging habitat.  Females are much more prone to dispersal, thus providing the gene flow that a healthy population

 How did I demonstrate the tight connection between male return and population dynamics?  First, I color-banded the limited young produced in CT and LI in 1972 and 1973, and scoped all active nests for the rest of the 1970’s so I could relocate them as breeders.  This also allowed me to quantify another absolutely critical population parameter:  Age at first breeding.  In that northern population, artificially depressed relative to resources, the commonest first breeding was at age 3 (the “mode”), the range I observed was ages 3 to 5, and the mean was 3.7 years of age.  Please remember this very important, hard-won data set.

 Certain biologists love to band nestling ospreys with the aluminum, numbered bands issued by the USFWS Bird Banding Laboratory at Maryland’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.  They have done this passionately for decades, going forth late every spring to band the annual “cohort”.  These saturation banding efforts have yielded a windfall of population data and understanding, which I have been able to harvest.  Sometimes it’s enough just to see what percentage of breeders of each sex wear these bands.  Ospreys’ long pale legs, and their attachment to the nest, make this easy.  For example, in the spring of 2005 I returned to my northern “Ph.D.” population, now recovered from the old DDT days.  Biologists Gerald Mersereau and Henry Golet had banded 1,684 nestlings in CT (but none across the Sound in LI) during the 15-year period 1988-2002, and I wanted to have a look at the dispersal of the breeding survivors.  The highest nest density and core banding area is the Connecticut River estuary (70 nests).  There I found that 70% of the males I checked were banded (32 of 46), but only 28% of females (17 of 61).  Sampling to the south across Long Island Sound, only 10-30 miles away, I found only 3% banded males (1 of 31), but 16% banded females (7 of 43). 

Thank you, Dr. Spitzer for another fabulous report.  Although the camera is fascinating to watch, your insight and expertise add another whole dimension to our osprey experience!  The rest of Chapter #5 will be posted in the next blog.

That’s it for now.  Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers in our midst, regardless of your genus and species!

Until next time, we remain,

Crazy Osprey Man and Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man

If you are enjoying the osprey camera and blog, please consider a donation to the Chesapeake Conservancy so they are able to continue supporting programs such as this one.  Go to today.  Thanks very much!


Observations, Comments and Questions Answered

Good afternoon from the hot and humid Eastern Shore, where foreboding rumblings have been heard from the west.  I haven’t been home very much this week, the call of the Almighty Dollar has taken the place of peaceful hours watching my feathered friends.  But I have a couple of short stories to tell (observations), some discourse regarding what has been going on in the nest and surrounding environs (comments) and some responses to inquiries that have been posed on Facebook (questions answered).  So here goes….

Observation:  This goes to the missing third marked stick that Crazy Osprey Man put out a few days ago.  The third stick is in the nest, but is not visible from the camera view.  It is in the side of the nest closest to the dock.  Each of the three marked sticks that Crazy Osprey Man put out are accounted for, although one of the marked sticks in the nest is getting covered.  So I apologize to Tom for insinuating in the last blog that he picked up a stick that didn’t make it to the nest due to his ineptitude.  I’m sorry, Tom, I will never doubt your nest building prowess in public again!

If you look closely, you can see the third marked stick right under Audrey on the side of the nest.

If you look closely, you can see the third marked stick right under Audrey on the side of the nest.

Observation:  On Tuesday afternoon, when not chasing the call of the Almighty Dollar, I heard the sounds of laughter and merriment emanating from our neighbor’s dock.  This is the dock where Tom likes to go to escape Audrey’s nagging and eat his fish in peace and quiet.  Some of my neighbor’s children and grandchildren were enjoying a beautiful day on the water, swimming, kayaking, running around and just having a good old time.  Well, Tom and Audrey were also attracted to the unusual noises coming from the neighbor’s dock.  They both turned and fixed their gazes on the fun-loving group with cold, hard stares as if to say, “Who are you people, and why are you making all of that noise on our auxiliary dock?”  Their piercing looks were not noticed by the true owners of the dock, so Tom and Audrey grew tired of trying to make their point and went about their osprey business.

Comment:  At around 7:30 this evening, there was some Facebook chatter about Audrey yelling for more food.  I can tell you in no uncertain terms that Audrey was not fussing about fish on that occasion (although she frequently fusses at Tom about needing more fish).  At my request, our daughter was at the end of the dock taking a picture of the third marked stick in the side of the nest. She is our technical expert extraordinaire, and her skills are highly valued by her sometimes technically challenged parents.  Audrey was not happy about having her picture taken, and was letting everyone hear her displeasure.

Comment:  Chick #3 seems to be holding his/her own for now.  Crazy Osprey Man has chatted with Dr. Spitzer a couple of times during the last week and  Dr. Spitzer commented that Chick #3 is getting a reasonable amount to eat.  So we will keep our fingers crossed that #3 will continue to thrive and Mother Nature was just messing with us those few days after #3 hatched.

Comment:  Our current Tom and Audrey pair have never raised 3 chicks to young adulthood.  Over the last ten years, we have only observed two years when all 3 chicks survived.  In each of those instances, the original Tom and Audrey pair were the parents who successfully raised the brood, not the current pair.  However, the current Tom and Audrey have gotten much more proficient at nest building and maintenance, and Tom is really getting the job done when it comes to providing fish.  Audrey is a fabulous, attentive mom.  They are becoming experienced parents, so we have high hopes that this will be the first year all three of their chicks make it.  Please refer to the blog dated April 29, 2013 to read about clutch size, hatching and survival rates at our nest.

Comment:  When Tom is not in the nest, he spends most of his time (when not out fishing) on the camera or perch.  He seems to like the perch overnight, in the early morning and around sunset.  Unless you can see his shadow on the nest in the late afternoon or hear him landing or moving around, you would not know he is on the camera. But he spends quite a bit of time there.  When he is eating, he likes to sit in a tree or on our neighbor’s dock.

Question Answered:  One of our Facebook followers asked a question about sparrows in the nest.  Two previous blogs address the sparrow issue.  Please see the blog dated 5/16/2013- refer to Fun Fact #2.  The blog dated 6/8/2013 has some of Dr. Spitzer’s insight on the sparrows.

Question Answered:  A few days ago, a comment was made about the camera zooming in on the nest.  This had to be an optical illusion, because although the camera has that capability, there is no live operator to make it happen.  Crazy Osprey Man, in conjunction with the Conservancy and partners, have some ideas for next year.  I can’t spoil any of their surprises, you will just have to wait and see!

The very good news for tonight is that the Weather Gods have spared us once again.  We had a little rain, a little wind and a little hail, but nothing destructive. The brunt of this latest storm has gone south of our location, so our osprey family and their nest are safe and sound.  We will address more questions next time, but until then, we remain-

Crazy Osprey Man and Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man

If you are enjoying the osprey camera and blog, please consider a donation to the Chesapeake Conservancy so they are able to continue supporting programs such as this one.  Go to today.  Thanks very much!

It Was A Dark and Stormy Night…

Good afternoon from the ominous-looking Eastern Shore!  We are currently under a tornado watch until 10:00 p.m. tonight, so let’s hope the weather gods keep the bad stuff away from Tom, Audrey and their chicks (and our house, please).  A couple of quick stories before we hunker down for the evening:

First of all, to those of you who read my blog from Saturday, guess what!  One of Crazy Osprey Man’s prefab osprey nest building sticks has made it to the nest.  He put three out, one is still down by the rip-rap, and the third seems to be missing in action.  If I had to guess, I would say Tom picked it up but had a little trouble getting it back to the nest.  The stick that made it to the nest, with its day glow orange construction tape attached, is quite visible in the camera view as well as from our backyard.  It sure didn’t take Tom long to find that one.

Second story:  As we were sitting having our happy hour last evening, we noticed Audrey take flight and leave the nest unattended for a couple of minutes.  She took a loop around the backyards, stretching her wings, and then made her way back to the nest.  Tom was out fishing, so the chicks had the place to themselves.  This is the first time with this brood that we have seen the adults leave their chicks alone.

Third story:  Around 7:30 p.m. last evening, while we were sitting outside enjoying the last of our lovely happy hour, we watched Tom return to the nest from our neighbor’s dock.  Much to Audrey’s chagrin, he did not “bring home the bacon” this time.  She fussed at him for a few minutes, and he resigned himself to another foray for the elusive fish dinner.  Tom traveled approximately 200 yards from the dock to the south and flew way, way up in the air.  He wasn’t up there for 30 seconds when he must have seen a potential meal, and boom!  Down he dove to the water, talons in motion, swiping at the water and then headed back to the nest with a very big fish!  Some of the Facebook viewers commented on this particular fish.  From the time Tom left the nest after his harangue from Audrey until he was back at the nest with dinner, less than 1 minute passed.  It was quite a spectacular event to witness.  And to top it off, Chick #3 managed to get a really good feed.

There was quite a large, noisy and wet storm here around 4:00 a.m. this morning.  It was loud enough to make us get up, close all of the windows and turn on the air conditioner.  Tom was sitting on the perch when I arose around 5:30 this morning.  It was raining quite heavily at the time and did not look very pleasant for him or his family in the nest.  I can’t help but wonder how our osprey families have weathered all of these severe storms for the 18 years they have been with us.  Nature is certainly amazing.

Well, that’s it for now.  Stay safe tonight, everyone.  Until next time, we remain-

Crazy Osprey Man and Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man


If you are enjoying the osprey camera and blog, please consider a donation to the Chesapeake Conservancy so they are able to continue supporting programs such as this one.  Go to today.  Thanks very much!

Nestlings and News

Good morning from the grey and wet Eastern Shore!  Tropical Depression Andrea has come and gone, with no damage to our surroundings or our ospreys.  Although there was not much wind associated with Andrea, we received 4.5 inches (11 centimeters) of rain at our home. Our viewers will be very happy to know we weathered this first storm of the hurricane season with no ill effects. The really good news is that Chick #3 seems to be holding his/her own, and had a good meal this morning thanks to his perseverance, lots of fish from Tom and careful attention from Audrey.

We have been observing a very busy Tom all morning, who has been incredibly busy trying to obtain nesting materials from his surroundings.  Our next door neighbor has a few scraggly-looking trees, and Tom has been trying to snatch dead branches right off of them while in flight.  He has only been successful some of the time, but keeps trying.  Mr. Crazy Osprey Man has a ready supply of prefab osprey building materials, and will put some out this afternoon.  He will attach some construction tape to the sticks so we can track their use in the nest if Tom decides to use them.

Now to answer a couple of questions and comments from the Conservancy’s Facebook page:

One June 4, Anthony Nelson made a comment regarding some commotion at the nest, an angry-looking Audrey and a large shadow passing over the nest.  Well, Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man happened to be home from work, and observed the incident in question.  There was an osprey interloper in the area, and it was attempting to land in our nest during Audrey’s watch.  She raised the alarm, and quite vocally I might add.  The shadow that Mr. Nelson saw was cast by the unwanted visitor, that’s how close he was to the nest.  Tom was in the area, heard the alarm, and raced to the scene.  A chase ensued, and for a short time, Tom and the interloper engaged in a spectacular aerial display.  The offending osprey decided he really didn’t want to visit anymore, and off he flew.

If you have been watching the camera, we are sure you have seen Audrey shading the chicks by holding out her wings to provide protection from the elements.  This behavior occurs very frequently, and you will observe the adults doing this throughout the summer.

We have had a fair amount of contact with Dr. Spitzer in the past several days for a variety of reasons.  He has advised that at this point, the 4th egg will not hatch.  The adults are very busy taking care of the young ones, and egg incubation has gone by the wayside.  So we will still try to observe the last unhatched egg, and see if we can determine what actually happens to it.  If you notice anything regarding the egg, please post a comment on Facebook for all to see.

Dr. Spitzer has provided one of his wonderful essays about osprey behavior.  Here is a very interesting one for your reading pleasure that answers some of the questions and addresses some of the comments on Facebook:

 Chapter #4:  The Nestlings

 Of course they hatch very small and helpless, and it is hard to imagine that eight weeks later this will be a flying osprey.  Such are the miracles of life.

 Hatching time (thus laying time and subsequent nestling age) is closely tied to local Chesapeake climates.  The first eggs are laid in the very sheltered upper ends of great tidal rivers, near places like Denton, MD (Choptank), Seaford, DE (Nanticoke), and Tappahannock, VA (Rappahannock), which are also warmed early by the surrounding land mass.  Laying at these sites can be as early as the first week of April.  The last nests to lay and hatch are those out on the completely exposed Smith Island marshes in the lower Bay, the Martin National Wildlife Refuge colony of about 40 nests on low poles.  Here most eggs are laid in late April, fully three weeks later, and there are no early “outlier” clutches.  Winter lingers on the Bay, water gains heat slowly.  Wind and storms sweep across these vast, exposed marshes, posing a thermoregulatory challenge to incubating female ospreys.  These same principles hold true for the famous (but currently struggling, food-limited) osprey colony on outermost Gardiners Is., NY.

 Hatchlings are covered with a fine, soft, beige down, and are incubated almost constantly by the female.  Her nest defense behavior when small young are present often becomes more attentive and aggressive; and she may be reluctant to fly.  The male now provisions both her and the young; and she presents small nestlings with appropriately small bits of fish (not regurgitation).  During their first week to ten days, nestlings will also beg food from a human visitor to the nest.

 At 10 to 12 days all this changes:  Nestlings grow a second heavy gray down and take on a rather reptilian appearance.  Now they lie still and play dead when you visit the nest, but their eyes–now bright red–remain open, shining vigorously with life.  For the next few weeks, you can see their lifted, bobbing heads from a distance with binoculars or telescope, but they drop them instantly in response to parental alarm calls.

 During week three the body feathers and wing feathers start to grow, emerging from nourishing blood-rich keratin sheaths known as “blood quills”.  From then on, nestlings look and act more like ospreys with every passing week, and acquire a juvenile photogenic charm.  Because there are lengthy intervals between fresh fish deliveries, they have a storage organ at the top of their digestive system called the “crop”.  After they are fed, this bulges in the lower neck and upper breast, gradually subsiding as food passes into their stomach.

 Hunting demand on the male gradually increases as the young grow, and this is demonstrated by the female’s frequent, repetitive food-begging call.  As you will hear, this can be quite an annoying, nagging call, and you may want to turn the volume way down on your computer.  Ospreys can be noisy neighbors….

 Why don’t the young fall out of the nest?  Parents usually maintain a lip on the nest.  But there is also tremendous natural selection for careful nest behavior; it must be genetically hard-wired, because there is no learning curve, no second chance.  Many years ago, when I was transporting nestlings from the Chesapeake to Gardiners Island nests for brood-size experiments, I found that a very shallow box on the back seat of my car was enough to confine them; with a rim of perhaps four inches—such is the life-saving constraint of this behavior.  However, by the time I reached NY the interior of my car appeared as if iced with a big pastry gun.  Unfortunately, this was osprey guano; not so delectable as icing.  Fortunately most of the guanoed surfaces were vinyl, saving me from my youthful whimsy.  This brings us to the question of nest hygeine:  The young back up to the nest rim, and squirt long white streams of liquid excrement over it.  (Will this be an issue with the Osprey Cam?)

 This guano is crystalline uric acid; nitrogenous wastes that are far more concentrated than mammalian urine.  Osprey nestlings cannot drink, so water conservation is absolutely essential, and all water comes from their fishy food.  They also have a salt excretory gland in their forehead:  Hypersaline solution is ducted to their nostrils, and then evaporates or drips off the bill tip.  These two adaptations of avian physiology have enabled seabirds to become abundant around the world; and numerous birds are also successful in desert environments.

 Still:  As summer comes on, osprey nestlings are living on top of a pedestal in the constant, unrelenting sun, with no chance for a drink.  Once they do fledge, they may roost in shade where available, and drink Bay water.  They finally get off that exposed nest, but for weeks it may remain the focus for feeding by the adults—the predictable rendezvous known to both generations.  Ospreys are good hunters around dawn and dusk, in crepuscular light, so I often see noisy feeding of fledgings very early and late on simmering July days.  Watch and listen for this, if the Osprey Cam nest is successful.

 That’s the way to use Osprey Cam:  Just leave the tab open on your computer.  You will hear calls when something interesting is happening.  Take a break, hit the tab, watch the action.

 Osprey Cam might also show us English sparrows in action.  We think they sometimes feed in the nest on small food fragments and insects, working as a sanitary crew.  We do know they nest commonly underneath ospreys’ big bulky stick nests, gaining predator protection and shade.  If these downstairs tenants also provide maid service, this is a true Symbiosis.  And more evidence that “The Universe Insists upon Life” (John Hay).

 Paul Spitzer

Windy Hill on the Choptank

May 22, 2013

Fabulous insights, Dr. Spitzer!  Thank you so much!  That’s it for now from the Eastern Shore.  Until next time, we remain,

Crazy Osprey Man and Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man

If you are enjoying the osprey camera and blog, please consider a donation to the Chesapeake Conservancy so they are able to continue supporting programs such as this one.  Go to today.  Thanks very much!


Good evening from the warm and still Eastern Shore.  None of us who follow Tom and Audrey are very happy tonight, and for good reason.  I won’t rehash what has been happening for the last couple of days in the nest, but will refer you to our blog posted on May 7, the title of which warned of some sad content.  We fear the situation described in that blog will be the outcome of the current events happening in the nest.  Most of you have not had to witness such a melancholy event in nature, and be warned, it will not be easy.  Intervention is not an option, nature will have to take its course. Dr. Spitzer has provided his insight concerning Osprey Population Regulation, which we will share with you very soon.  In the meantime, here is a portion of emails sent to the Conservancy from Dr. Spitzer earlier today:

3:12 p.m.: 

I was just watching the osprey cam, as the male delivered part of a menhaden (black gut cavity visible, then yellow forked tail). There was a wave of nestling aggression, and the little third-hatch got clobbered when he dared to lift his head. Then feeding ensued:  For big #1 and #2.  The female ignored #3’s begging, and ate quite a bit herself.

 Now #1 and #2 ate lying somewhat sated.  #3 is separate, far side of the unhatched egg, with no sign of food in the crop, lying quiescent.  Some fish does remain, and the male left after the delivery.

 Stay tuned,    PAUL 

3:50 p.m.:

This is normal “brood size reduction” behavior in the face of food limitations and male foraging skills.  Sometimes it’s called “Cainism”, after the Bible story–and you can see why!  Though very hard to watch (for me too–and I’ve been a biologist for 45 years) it is one of nature’s ways of bringing animals into balance with resources.  It’s found in a diverse array of carnivorous birds, including boobies in the Galapagos, and gorgeous Whooping Cranes on their remaining far northern Canadian breeding ground.  In pre-European times, whooping cranes bred as far south as rich Wisconsin marsh habitat.  With their slow maturity and feeble reproductive rate, only a remnant survived hunting, in the far northern wilderness portion of their migratory range.  That region may be marginal foodwise; thus they often only bring one young south to Texas (from two hatched eggs).  Some seabirds that are food-limited, such as albatrosses and petrels, have evolved a one-egg clutch.  Chicks of the big albatrosses take many months to grow and fly, and the adults only breed every other year.  They too are protected by their oceanic island and the wilderness of the sea, so that low slow reproduction is adequate.

 I discuss Osprey Population Regulation in detail in OSPREYS EXPLAINED #5 [which will be posted on this blog soon].  I thought it was so important that I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on it, with ten years of field work.  Please Note that to this day, the formerly 300-nest-strong osprey colony on Gardiners Is., NY, struggles to maintain 20 nests, with rampant nestling starvation.  There one sees brood reduction to ZERO, and many/most successful nests fledge only one.  That is partly because we have so drastically overharvested the Atlantic menhaden:  This island is surrounded by many miles of prime menhaden habitat, Gardiners was a “menhaden colony”.

We do have some answers and thoughts in regard to some of the other questions/comments on Facebook.  Not really in the mood to write any more tonight, so until the next blog, we remain:

Crazy Osprey Man and Mrs. Crazy Osprey Man