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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Field Note: Gotta Getta Fish!

Published: June 24, 2022

By Mark Seth Lender

An osprey with a flounder grasped in its talons. (Photo: (c) Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth's Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender elaborates on the singular moment when a young osprey first leaves the nest.

On the day he was abandoned the young male osprey called and called to be fed. The “feed me” has an urgent quality, an urgency that increases as hunger rises. Finally he accepted there would be no answer and that he was alone.

Unlike other birds of prey osprey are talkative. But their vocal repertoire is limited as compared with the corvids (crows, ravens, blue jays, etc.) and certainly in comparison with herring gulls who are loquacious and whose language is highly nuanced and complex. Verbosity is something we correctly associate with intelligence but we also tend to confound the ability to experience emotions. And this is a mistake.

When osprey take their very first flight, it is the female fledglings, bigger and stronger, that lead. The males are always behind. In August of 2019 at a well-established nest on a tidal river I watched a typical instance, this time with a striking difference. Both parents and their two fledglings (a female and a male) were on the nest. The moment the young female elevated her practice into flight her father also took off. He stayed right with her. They made a wide arc around the nest, his great circle outside of hers and just behind. All the while he gave a slow, measured version of his territorial challenge call. Both that flight pattern and the call that went with it were a warning: “The space wherein this fledgling flies belongs to me. Come near her, I will hurt you.”

All the while until she landed he watched over her, then landed alongside her.

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