Ospreys fly home

Fri, 04/08/2016 - 2:00pm

The osprey couple, ever vigilant, keeping watch, making babies, have begun their annual sojourn on Block Island.

Things are a little different this year. While the couple has returned to the familiar area located at the Block Island Power Company, the pole on which the nest sits had to be moved out of the range of the Deepwater Wind cable installation project. There was a little anxiety about whether the returning birds would actually nest in the new spot.

That proved to be unwarranted, and the female, who never strays far from the nest, is most likely sitting on some eggs, perhaps as many as three. 

According to Kim Gaffett, the two adults are probably related to the original couple that showed up in 2005. The male came back, but the female, who had been banded, no longer had the band so it may have been a new companion, according to Gaffett, who is the director of the Ocean View Foundation. 

Since 2005, Gaffett said she has banded 14 offspring (excluding a couple of years when that couldn’t be done), and they too probably return to the island. 

The male and the female have their roles to play, said Gaffett. While the female sits on the eggs in the nest, the male sits on another pole, a couple hundred yards away. 

“He’s kind of vigil,” said Gaffett. “He’s bringing fish for her. Sometimes he trades spots with her. Once the young hatch he’ll be bringing fish back for everybody.”

Gaffett said the eggs take about 21 days to incubate and the babies will stay in the area until late summer. “The parents will continue to bring food and teach them how to hunt.” The adults will head south earlier then the offspring, in late August or early September, and then the young ones will leave — or “fledge” — sometime after. 

Ospreys live about 10 years, a pretty good lifespan for a bird, said Gaffett. “They have a lot of obstacles. They migrate. They like fish and if they come across a fish hatchery, fish hatchery people don’t like that.”

Gaffett was able to track the whereabouts of one those 14 offspring for a couple of years beginning in 2006. One of the ones she had banded was trapped by an osprey researcher in Jamestown, who then outfitted the bird with a transmitter that allowed its position to be tracked for a couple of years.

Its last known position was in Cozumel, Mexico, during a hurricane. It’s tracking jacket must have blown off, Gaffett said, and it was not heard from again.