I’ve written several times about Cornell University’s live bird cams that enable people all around the world to spy on the interactions of different bird species as they begin the mating season, build their nests, brood their eggs, hatch their offspring, nurture them to fledging and then helicopter them as they gradually become self-sufficient.
This year high drama has surrounded the Hellgate Osprey Nest in Missoula Montana. But first we must recap last years drama… Iris and Stanley continued their relationship from years before, refurbishing their nest, brooding their eggs and cam watchers delighted in seeing Stanley deliver a fresh fish to Iris, delicately ripping fish flesh pieces that he then gently fed to her as she sat brooding the eggs. They worked as a highly efficient team driven by instinct to procreate and ensure the survival of their species. Unfortunately Mother Nature dealt them a deadly blow last year in the form of a hail storm that damaged their eggs and that year’s brood was lost. Stanley and Iris eventually migrated South for the winter and when April arrived the Hellgate cameras heralded the arrival of Iris. We and Iris watched for days and days for the arrival of Stanley. He never arrived and we will never know what happened to prevent his return. Most likely he died during the winter. So Iris waited, was approached by several males attempting to mate and ultimately her next “husband” arrived and won her over with his charming character and clownish ways. Louis had secured her affections and they set about to raise a family.
The experts let us know that this was probably Louis’s first year as a Father-to-be based on his inexperienced behaviors. After multiple awkward mating attempts, Louis finally got the hang of that piece of the family making puzzle. He had much more to learn though and Iris was more than ready to teach him. We watched as she yakked at him almost constantly, perhaps directing his nest enhancement skills or ordering a fish for lunch. As she laid her eggs and began to brood them, Louis would fly in with a huge gangly stick and in his efforts to place it correctly in the nest he many times bopped her on the head. He seemed not to realize that it was his responsibility to fish, fish, and fish some more, to bring those fish to Iris and give them over to her. She would fly off with the proffered fish and he settled in to fret about how to gently turn the eggs and position his body over the eggs before covering them for brooding. All new skills that he was desperately trying to learn. Iris yakked and yakked and yakked.
But Louis wasn’t a quitter, he learned quickly and gradually took delight in his time brooding the eggs. When Iris returned from her brief forays, he was reluctant to relinquish his position. But ultimately he did because Iris was yakking at him. She definitely was the boss. As time passed, two of the three eggs were damaged…how we don’t know…maybe accidentally punctured by a talon claw, maybe by a beak that turned the eggs too vigorously, any of which could have been caused by Louis’s inexperience as a parent.
At last we waited and waited and waited some more for the last egg to pip. Expert bird people know exactly how long it takes for the egg to develop and as the days passed it became evident that this last egg was probably not viable. But both Iris and Louis are still being driven by instinct and continue to brood until some internal switch turns off and they accept that this year their efforts are unsuccessful. But the egg remains in the nest and although Iris is spending less and less time each day brooding the egg, Louis is still hanging in there, protecting his offspring which has become known to the world as Dudley. Dudley the Osprey who would never be.
Iris and Louis will spend the remainder of this summer fishing, flying and just hanging out together, continuing to bond as a mated pair. Then they will depart on their migration South each going their separate way. Hopefully next Spring they will both return to the nest at Hellgate and will begin again to build a family. And perhaps next year, they will be successful.
Watching the beauty of nature as it evolves is a gift. Thank you Cornell for giving the world a “bird’s-eye view” so we can learn, enjoy and embrace these beautiful creatures.
Photos courtesy of Cornell live bird cams