Dudley Drama

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

Iris and Stanley


Stanley & Iris -2014

Just who are Iris and Stanley? They are two beautiful Ospreys that share their lives with us on a daily basis thanks to the Cornell live bird cams. This can be a blessing or a curse for me. A blessing in that I get to observe the majesty of their bodies, their behavior and indomitable spirits. A curse because when tragedy strikes their family it saddens me to the point of tears. This is what happened this year as Iris and Stanley began to add more offspring to their large family.

Through the cam, we are able to watch as huge sticks are brought to the nest atop a platform located at the mouth of Hellgate Canyon near the Clark Fork River in Missoula, Montana. They somehow manage to build those sticks into a nice nest with a cup in the center where the eggs will be deposited. Stanley is very proficient at supplying Iris with great sticks, both large and small. Many times he weaves them into the nest and later we may see Iris doing some “redecorating” as if she wasn’t quite satisfied with his building skills.

Osprey Chick – 2014

The eggs are laid and through the cams we anxiously wait to see just how many there will be this year. One, two, then three. As she tends to her important duties, Stanley proves consistently what a great provider he is. Time and time again he dives into the river, catches huge fish, removes the head and brings the entire fish to the nest for Iris. But, he goes one step further. I have actually seen him tear small pieces of flesh from the fish and tenderly feed them to Iris. There relationship is solid and they will remain with each other until one of them dies at which time the remaining one will seek another mate for life. The drive to preserve the species is quite strong.

Iris and Stanley both tenderly care for their eggs keeping them warm, protecting them from the elements. I have seen her spread her wings and act as a “Mombrella” to shade her chicks from the sun or rain. This is exactly what she did one day when a freak hail storm began pummeling the nest. She and Stanley spread their wings in a futile attempt to protect their eggs. So close to pipping when disaster struck. All of the eggs sustained damage even though both parents valiantly fought to protect them. Faced with this tremendous loss, both parents instinctively knew it was too late to begin again. They must wait for next Spring. Hopefully next year they will meet with success and their offspring will fledge from the nest and begin their own journeys.

My heart was so heavy the day I watched the video and read about their loss. I shed tears and the sadness followed me for several days thereafter. The drama of watching them build, endure, suffer loss and carry on is a lesson from Mother Nature to us all. Never give up, keep trying and success will eventually be yours.

Happy bird searching!!!IMG_2786

Photos grabbed from live bird cams courtesy of Cornell University.