I live in the valley of the Umpqua River – a beautiful run that starts crystal clear in the Cascades of Oregon … and stays clear all the way to the ocean except in times of heavy rains. The river wanders long, providing miles of osprey habitat. Late March we look forward to the return of the ospreys. By early April they are refurbishing their nests, and soon after will be incubating. Beginning April 12 we spent part of at least nine afternoons watching a nest close to home.
EASTER, April 12: We are parked at the edge of a peach orchard, just a few miles from home. I only know these are peach trees because I’ve been here before and itched to pluck a few peaches from the trees – I didn’t. This years blossoms have already fallen and new peaches are tiny. When we arrived the hen was fussing with the interior of the nest. She is easy to tell from the male. She has light streaking on her breast; the male’s is primarily white.
The hen briefly leaves, soon to return. She doesn’t settle onto the nest. I doubt there are any eggs yet. Turkey vultures fly high above us, a northern harrier drifts by, hunting. Finally we spot the male. He is off in the distance feeding on a fish. She flies to a branch near him … but he ignores her. No sharing here. Back to the nest she comes.
In a moment the male follows the hen to the nest … he balls his feet and stands on her back. She twists her tail to the left and he to the right – copulation! The two rest for about ten minutes before he flies off, and the hen soon after.
April 13: We are back at the osprey nest. Empty, but nearby the female perches on top of a telephone pole, picking a fish apart. I’m behind on my exercise and figure her belly is filling, so I go for a walk while Dale watches.
When I return nearly an hour later I find the hen back on the nest. Dullsville. Dale gets ready to walk next but suddenly she starts to call. I spot the male flying to the far off gnarly snag with a fish – a big fish. It looks to be a bass. She calls and calls, but he just ignors. His fish is still wiggly and takes his full attention.
After about ten minutes of begging, the hen flies to the snag; but, once again, he just ignores her and continues to feed on the big bass. She soon drops to the ground and quickly grabs a fist-full of grasses. Back to the nest to line it with the new material … and back to begging.
A long wait drags on. The male continues to feed on the bass. He starts with the head and slowly nibbles it down, I assume tossing hard parts in the process. Why does an owl or heron swallow prey whole and the osprey takes mini hors d’oeurve bites. We watch and wait and wonder how much he’ll eat. He can’t possibly eat it all. 30 minutes ….. 45 minutes ….
Finally, after one hour and 10 minutes the male is flying towards us and the nest.
He lands and she quickly grabs her half of the fish. Off she goes to the telephone pole where we found her a couple of hours ago. The male flies towards the river. We are comfortable incubation hasn’t started.