Ospreys win this one

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Years ago, when Dave and his family frequented the beaches of Florida, they never even heard of nearly extinct birds like great egrets and eagles. The brown pelicans we know so well today were hanging by a thread. The only pelicans they knew were the white ones migrating through the wetlands. Brown pelicans, so common today, simply did not appear in the Southeastern states.

And they would have been dumfounded if they had glimpsed an osprey cruising several hundred feet above the dunes.

Like too many other large birds, the ospreys’ numbers had dropped precipitously, mostly because of the effect of DDT, a pesticide that makes the birds’ egg shells so thin that they broke under the weight of the brooding parent.

We’ve had a boat at one or another of the lakes that form a chain on the Chattahoochee River, and we have watched something of a miracle as the osprey has made its return. Most of those lakes are the responsibility of the Corps of Engineers. Conservationists launched a successful campaign to save the raptor in the early 1970s.

Dave and I arrived at Lake Eufaula one late spring weekend in 1980 and discovered that our favorite place to launch the boat had been cordoned off and we had to find another. The reason? A pair of ospreys had built a nest on the top of a parking lot lamp and were nervously brooding two chicks.

We were so pleased that they were there and that the Corps and the Department of the Interior National Fish & Wildlife people were taking such care.

Although we couldn’t get close, we could see the parents feeding the kids and soaring overhead, with their cheery “cheep, cheep.” They sounded more like songbirds than like eagle-sized birds of prey .

Rather than give you all the details of Life on a Light Pole, let me refer you to http://www.avianweb.com/ospreys.html. It is full of interesting facts and stunning photos.

· Like that ospreys are found on every continent except Antarctica.

· The female is the larger of the pair and wears a necklace of feathers.

· And they plunge feet-first into the water, to manipulate their catch into a streamlined head-forward position to carry it back home.

The osprey’s recovery is almost beyond belief. Nearly every buoy or navigational marker on the Chattahoochee waterways has a huge nest, or just last year’s nursery with a new pile of branches on it. In response, Fish & Wildlife has erected additional posts to accommodate next year’s nest.

And never since we’ve been coming to the lake has Dave failed to say, “I remember when they thought the osprey would be extinct, and look at all these nests….”

A few weeks ago when we were at LakePoint Resort marina, Dave picked up a photograph of an osprey bringing dinner to his wife and this year’s family. A woman in line in front of him remarked that he must be a bird watcher.

When he responded positively, she told him a story. Football season was approaching, and local school personnel went out to see what needed to be done at the school’s playing fields.

To the astonishment of all, there was an osprey sitting on her nest – on the ground, right in the middle of the field, her agitated mate doing that odd “cheep.”

Although there were two government agencies facing off here, they agreed on a solution that would save the nest and its precious cargo and, additionally, provide a good example for the school kids. And still play football.

Now, I’ve never heard of ospreys nesting on the ground, but Dave’s acquaintance was firm. She had seen it and was adamant that the birds raised at least that clutch successfully.

The officials backed off to let the pair calm down, then encircled the nest, each gripping their part. The birds watched from the trees on the sidelines as the workers carefully lifted the nest as high as they could onto a prepared platform.

As soon as the ground crew pulled away and quiet returned, the birds took up their parental duties. They returned to brood the eggs and take turns feeding each other.

So far, so good. I’ll try to find Dave’s anonymous chronicler for a conclusion.

Truth? Or just another Urban Legend?