King of the Hill? Pam Narney
Fight for the Bay Part 1
March 16, 2021 Placid Bay, VA Pam Narney
Two intruders (eagles) invade Osprey territory and have the termidity to perch on the male Osprey, George’s, loafing/perching/guarding/eating tree branch. His mate, Gracie, is alone on their nest. Gracie spots the eagles and gives her “guard call” to alert George to possible danger. According to Alan Poole, Osprey can recognize each other by voice. Getting no response from George, Gracie alerts with her alarm call. George must have been fishing because he flies to the nest with a fish in his talons.
As soon as he nears the nest, an eagle launches from the tree and heads for George, who drops his fish and takes off after the eagle. Gracie’s breakfast will be delayed or missed. Once mated, it is the male’s job to provide food, and, similar to humans, he brings her fish as a gift as part of the mating ritual.
George not only has to feed Gracie and any chicks they have, but he also has to defend the nest to keep her and future chicks safe.
George files hard right into the face of a perched eagle who seems to shrug his shoulders and doesn’t even bat an eagle eye. The eagle basically ignores George. We can image the baffled eagle thinking, "What did I do? We’ve been using that osprey nest all winter as a perching or feeding spot. Who the heck are these guys?" George takes another swipe at an eagle’s tail and is ignored. This aggravates George because the eagles are on his perching branch, acting like they own it.
George’s advantage is in the air. Male Osprey are smaller than the females and are more maneuverable. This maneuverability allows George to take on the eagles who are bigger but not as fast or agile in the air as he is. Unfortunately, these eagles are comfortably perched. George makes several more sorties and fortunately, because there are no eggs or chicks in the nest yet, Gracie joins the attack.
George and Gracie continue their onslaught of the eagles. George and Gracie must be tiring because occasionally they veer off into the trees in the woodlot to the right of their nest for a rest. By now another Osprey has entered the fray, but not to help George drive off the eagles. The new Osprey is interested in Gracie, so George not only has to attack the eagles, but he also has to defend the nest against another intruder. George is now exposed on his flanks and is protecting almost all of the lower bay.
Because the only food available was dropped into the water, the bored eagles, impertinent birds that they are, exit the area by flying directly over the osprey nest. Eagles will eat carrion and will chase Osprey to make them drop fish so the eagles eat without doing the work of hunting. The Osprey diet is normally 99% fish, so George is right to protect his catch and his family.
The eagles are gone. Gracie and George continue to bring sticks to their nest readying it for the egg laying and the chicks. Although the eagles did not manage to pick up George's fish, the score today is eagles 2 and Osprey 0. It won’t be long before the balance changes.
As the season progresses and more Osprey arrive, George and Gracie will be joined in their eagle attacks by Osprey from neighboring nests and juveniles who have no mate or nest yet. It’s not that the Osprey don’t like eagles, it is imperative that the Osprey protect the females, possible eggs, and future chicks for the continuation of their species. Once George and Gracie restore their claims, the eagles will stay mostly out of the bay, until the Osprey leave in the fall.
Osprey come here from South America to breed. That is their only job for the warm season. The Chesapeake Bay has the largest number of BREEDING Osprey in the world, and we are fortunate that Osprey are so beautiful, so close to humans, and so easy to watch.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Fight for the Bay.
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