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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Osprey Files: Growing Up (Part 2)

Before I left Maine to come back home to Colorado, I had the good fortune to witness some of the first flights by "my" Osprey babies at Wolfe's Neck State Park. I was amazed to see how quickly these birds learned to fly - within just a few attempts, they soared like old pros.

Juvenile Osprey on an early flight at Wolfe's Neck Park, Maine

Landing, however, was a skill that took more time to perfect...

The same juvenile trying to land at the nest and about to crash into dad in the process...

Within 5 days of learning to fly, the young Osprey appeared to be teaching themselves to fish. They'd soar for a few minutes, then fly low over Casco Bay and intermittently drop down to practice their fish-grabbing skills. Why do I think they were just practicing? I never saw any of them actually catch anything - it looked to me as if they were testing out how to grab at the water safely, much as a kitten might bat at some dust on the floor to perfect her hunting skills. The young Osprey continued these touch-and-gos with the water's surface for several minutes before winging back to the nest to rest their young muscles.

These short flights over the bay served another purpose besides learning to fish - they helped the young birds build up a set of powerful flight muscles. At first, the birds could fly for no more than 5-10 minutes at a time before needing to rest. But by the end of August, they were strong enough to begin their long journey to the south to spend the winter in warmer climates. 

Osprey that breed in Maine typically over-winter in Central America, although many US birds winter anywhere from Florida through the Gulf Coast of Texas and into Central and South America (as far south as Venezuela). That's a long way for a young bird to travel so they remain in their wintering location throughout their second summer. By the summer of their fourth year they've learned the northward migration routes and have returned to breed in areas near their birth territory. 

In a few years if I visit Casco Bay again I may be lucky enough to see one of these young return as an adult to raise his or her first family...

All photos and content copyright Nancy Rynes, 2012. You may freely link to this site, but please do not copy anything here without my permission. Thanks.

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