Osprey Cam FAQ

Q: How do you tell Tom and Audrey apart?

A: Audrey, the larger of the two, has lemon eyes and a necklace of dark feathers. Audrey is responsible for incubating the eggs while protecting the hatchlings from predators.

Tom, the smaller of the two, has a light brown patch on the nape of his neck and golden eyes. Typically, Osprey males have 80-85% the mass of their female counterparts. With less bulk, males will fly long distances, provide fish for the family, and protect the nest in an energy-efficient manner.

Q: Do Ospreys mate for life?

A: Yes. Although they spend the winter apart, Ospreys will return to the same nesting site year after year. Tom and Audrey have summered at the Crazy Osprey Family’s roost since 2009. How romantic!

Q: How many eggs will a female typically lay?

 A: Ospreys lay between 1-4 eggs per clutch. Roughly 80% of females within the Chesapeake Bay lay three eggs each summer season.

Q: What is an egg’s incubation period?

A: Eggs typically hatch in 36-42 days – a longer incubation time than the bald eagle! In the summer of 2013, Audrey’s three surviving eggs hatched in 39, 40, and 40 days respectively.

Q: When will the chicks take their first flight?

 A: Once an egg hatches, the nestling will develop for 7-8 weeks before taking its first flight.

Q: Why is the bigger hatchling such a bully?

 A: Osprey offspring do not hatch all at once. With up to five days between hatchings, the nestlings often range in size. The largest will establish dominance over the smaller siblings to ensure a steady stream of food. In times of plenty, chicks will share food in harmony. When the going gets tough, the largest hatchling will hog the food, leading to malnourishment and sometimes death for its less capable siblings.

Q: What do Ospreys eat?

A: Ospreys are the only North American bird of prey that eat almost exclusively live fish. With a reversible outer toe and barbed footpads for grasping slippery sea-life, Ospreys are expert anglers. In fact, studies have shown that they land a catch once out of every four dives!

 Q: What does Tom do when he is off-camera?

 A: As the “commuter” and family provider, Tom regularly leaves the nest to fish in nearby Chesapeake estuaries. Upon returning from a catch, male ospreys will dramatically dive, duck, and dance above the nest with their prize fish locked in their talons. Unfortunately, Tom’s spectacular courtship flights are not captured on the webcam. According to osprey biologist Dr. Paul Randolph Spitzer, “Not surprisingly, mating often follows.”

Q: Where is the nest located?

A: Tom and Audrey’s nest is located on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The exact location will remain secret in order to both protect the magnificent raptors and the privacy of the Crazy Osprey Family.

Q: Where can Ospreys be found outside of the Chesapeake Bay?

A: Ospreys are found on every continent besides Antarctica.    

Q: Why does the Crazy Osprey Family dispose of Tom and Audrey’s nest at the end of the summer?

A: Mating pairs will return to the same location and add to their nest year after year. As the nest grows, it becomes prone to fall off of its supports. As a result, Tom and Audrey’s kind caretakers will remove the nest at the end of the summer to both limit parasite growth and possible collapse.

Q: Where do Tom and Audrey go for the winter?

A: Tom and Audrey will part ways with their offspring and fly south to “vacation” in South America. Over the course of their 15- 20-year lives, Ospreys will log up to 160,000 migration miles!

Q: Are there any threats to the nest?

A: In addition to environmental stressors like wind, rain, and heat, Bald Eagles are a threat to the nestlings. The mated pair must defend their nest from their larger counterparts or risk losing their offspring to predation. 

Q: Why is there man-made material in the nest? Is it harmful?

A: Don’t be worried! According to Dr. Spitzer, “Ospreys often line their nest with a plastic bag, which suggests they have figured out the insulating and moisture-conserving value of sheet plastic.” Quite clever.

Q: Have Ospreys ever been endangered within the Chesapeake region?

A: Most definitely so! Due to the lethal effects of DDT, Osprey populations fell by 90% between 1950 and 1970. Fortunately, the Osprey population has rebounded with continued conservation efforts.