Osprey trio prepare for the unsure future that lies ahead
Chris Powell, a former Conservation Commission chairman who now co-chairs the Conanicut Island Raptor Project, initially reported that two birds joined the family in late June after eggs were laid on May 14. After reporting the two deliveries in the July 14 edition of the Press, emails poured in that said there were in fact three baby chicks.
“I am a native Jamestowner who now lives in St. Louis,” wrote Barbara Brownell, the daughter of islanders Dalton and Ellen Brownell. “Upon a recent visit during the first two weeks of July, I regularly observed the Marsh Meadow osprey nest. I observed directly two young osprey offspring and watched as they were fed by their mother. I later resorted to viewing them on the webcam and have clearly seen THREE young in the nest.”
The webcam that Brownell is referencing is a wireless infrared camera that is mounted on the pole that the nest sits atop off. The camera is attached to a long arm that juts away from the pole and records from a view just above the birds a few feet away. The webcam images displayed on conanicutraptors.com are nearly real time – the delay is just a few seconds.
According to Powell, the two adult ospreys have likely been the same birds that have lived at the nest during the summer months for the last seven years.
“It’s the same osprey pair, we think, all this time,” he said. “Ospreys mate for life. What happens is when they find a nest site, as long as one doesn’t die, they keep coming back.”
Although he believes it’s the same couple, Powell said that there is a possibility that one of the ospreys died and the other came back with another mate. Thanks to Dr. Rob Bierregaard, a research professor in the biology department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the Jamestown ospreys have been tracked and Powell knows where the couple vacations in the winter.
“Because of Rob Bierregaard, who tracks the birds, we found out that they go all the way to South America and follow the same course each year,” Powell said.
While the adult pair will fly directly the South America, the three chicks will have to fend for themselves for a few weeks. Powell said that the chicks will most likely make their first flight later this month, and then will be in the nest by themselves for part of September.
“Prior to the chicks leaving the nest,” Powell said, “the adults will have already migrated. It’s part of the training.”
Sometime in September – after learning to cope by themselves for a couple of weeks – the young ospreys will follow the parents south, albeit not as safely or directly.
Powell said that the mortality rate of young birds like the osprey is 80 percent during migration. Survival chances are slim, so rarely do the chicks return to the area. “I don’t remember exactly how many chicks we’ve had over the seven years,” Powell said. “A lot. At least two birds almost every year. A lot of them won’t survive. They are susceptible to multiple problems. We’ve lost at least one to a hurricane.” According to Powell, in countries like Cuba, there are no laws protecting raptors, so ospreys are also in danger of being shot.
Unlike the adult birds, which have made multiple safe trips to and from South America, the young ospreys will not know a sure-fire route to safety.
“The mature birds go straight up and straight down,” Powell said. “The entire migration of young birds haven’t done it before so they will go all over the place.”
If the young birds are lucky enough to survive the trip to the Caribbean or South America – wherever they end up landing for the winter – Powell said that the birds won’t return next season, but will wait until they reach their sexual maturity and return to the area the following year.
Although the young ospreys probably won’t find their way back to Marsh Meadows, if they do survive the migration, they will return to the general vicinity of the Northeast.
“They might run into their parents in a few years,” Powell said. “I’m not sure that they would recognize each other though.”
No bird in the family of five that lives just a stone’s throw away from the Great Creek stretch of North Main Road is equipped with a transmitter.
The transmitters, which Powell said are about “half the size of a cigarette pack, maybe smaller,” cost $4,200 each. They mount to the bird like a backpack. In the past, Bierregaard has used transmitters on Jamestown birds. An osprey named Neale, an adult male from Jamestown, was being tracked. Neale’s nest was about 500 yards from the Marsh Meadows nest on Neale Farm. He was first tagged in 2006 on Block Island 25 miles from Neale Farm.
Bierregaard began tracking Neale last year. Neale died crossing the Caribbean in the wake of Hurricane Richard. Two other island ospreys – Conanicus and Comet – were also equipped with a tracker, but have both since died. (Only birds with trackers are named.)
Bierregaard has been studying the population of ospreys since 1969 on Martha’s Vineyard. He began to put satellite transmitters on the birds in 2000.
According to its website, the Conanicut Island Raptor Project is dedicated to the preservation, study and enjoyment of Jamestown’s birds of prey. They say that an informed community that values its wildlife will act responsibly to protect wild animals and the habitat on which they depend for survival.
The project is a community partnership with the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, the Conanicut Island Land Trust, the Conservation Commission and the Jamestown Education Foundation.
Its main sponsor is the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, which hosts the project’s website – which includes the webcam – for free from their office. “They help a lot,” said Powell. “Thanks to them, our expenses are pretty low.”
Currently, the camera is a little dirty. “I have to go clean it off,” Powell said. “It’s supposed to be waterproof. It’s possible that one of the birds just pooped on the lense.”