May 29, 2023

Message from the Cap’n – Osprey Return

The Captain is attending to several Ravens in Piney Point. More on that in an upcoming episode. While on this hiatus he has permitted Senora Capitán to add her collection of osprey observations to his compilation of fishing advice, waterman and weather insights, Chesapeake lore, and ordinary malarkey from the folks who keep their feet wet in the Potomac and St. Mary’s rivers.

Two of the most famous osprey couples of Island Creek — Mr. and Mrs. Perfect and Mr. and Mrs. Bennet — returned to their nests March 5, 2023, from their winter digs in Central America.

This is the second year the Perfects have defied osprey tradition by arriving together. Last year, the Perfects arrived March 7. Together. Sighted perfectly perched, side by side, on their nest. Very unusual for osprey who are known to migrate singly, both in the spring and fall.

Ospreys commit themselves to their nests, according to bird scientists (ornithologists) who have a pretty good handle on osprey’s springtime behavior because what they do in spring, they do in the open. It is nest site fidelity that draws them back to their natal nest region to establish their own nest. Preferably high and in an open area. And they will return to that nest each spring, likely for as long as they live, which can be more than two decades.

The science would have, in the specific cases of Mr. Perfect and Mr. Bennet, the males leaving Central America first, arriving in early March at Island Creek to tidy their nests in anticipation of their mates.

Bib Mama is the matriarch of Island Creek osprey. Her story in an upcoming episode.

Yet in 2022, Mrs. Bennet arrived first, on March 8, the day after the Perfects and six days ahead of Mr. Bennet. Big Mama, the matriarch of the Island Creek osprey, also arrived March 8. Big Daddy didn’t show until the 20th. But more of that couple in another episode.

The Bennets are a young couple. They failed to hatch eggs in 2020 amid season-long battles for theirs and another new nest platform installed just south of the observation deck of Sea-Fruit Oyster House. They fledged two chicks in 2021, despite skirmishes between neighbors and intruders. Their nests, among many in Island Creek, failed in 2022 to produce chicks. Wet weather and crows were locally considered the likely culprits.

Nevertheless, by 2022, unlike in the previous few years, the Bennets and their neighbors in the lower portion of Island Creek had clearly delineated their nest sites. And their mates. And were, at least to a greater extent than in previous years, monogamous.

The Perfects, meanwhile, have over the years built a perfect appearing nest on a platform north of the oyster house as far as can be seen from the observation deck. Theirs is the nest in the photo at the top. An easy winter left much of their nest intact. Like last year, on that first day they arrived, after perching side-by-side, they busied themselves with nestorations, both brought sticks to the nest. Mr. Perfect delivered a big fish and Mrs. Perfect took it to her favorite tree perch to eat. And they mated, that first day, which is a big deal.

There is mating and bonding. Bonding leads to mating. Mating leads to eggs. Mating is a learned skill. Bonding can be bonding, but also results from a lack of practice, a sudden loss of balance, perhaps a headache. Regardless, it takes at least seven days of mating for an osprey couple to produce their first egg. A bunch of tricky biology has to get synced.

Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bennet (brooding in 2022) typically keep a minimalist nest.

In 2022, the young Mr. Bennet showed up a week behind his Mrs. It took them a few days to get in sync. Last year’s practice showed this year. The Bennets perched on their nest March 5. Mr. Bennet, an excellent fisher, delivered a fish and Mrs. B took it to her dining piling. They mated twice mid-day, during which time there was no quibbling, no bonding. Also no sticks added, corresponding to their historical housekeeping style.

A week after the early arrivals, an osprey was perched on at least six of more than 15 osprey nests on Island Creek. Mrs. Bennet awaited Mr. Bennet’s return with her breakfast. Likely Mrs. Perfect had already had hers, she and Mr. Perfect were in their nest alerting the creek to human intruders. And then they were off.

The Perfects sky danced off their nest from their spring duties. The ospreys’ sky dancing is a synchronized flying display that includes elaborate drops from great heights by males seeking to attract a female to his nest. But there is also the huge sweeping flight of two, sometimes three, and even four ospreys sailing at great speed, sweeping turns but sharply banked. They practice and if one falls out the other will retreat and regain the momentum. The Perfects soared above Island Creek, south toward Potomac River but turning back north above the line of pines at the shore of St. George Creek.  Then cutting back, until one they lose the connection as they’re sweeping toward their home nest. But they regroup and begin the entire series of aerials again.

The top photo is Mrs. Perfect with the two 2022 nestling she and Mr. Perfect culled from their four hatchlings. They were not among the many nests to lose their clutches that year. But they did lose their clutch the year before. It’s tough out there.

The rest of the Island Creek nests and surely thousands more in the Chesapeake region will be be steadily filling with returning mates into April. The Bennets’ and Perfects’ jump on the season takes a risk on the weather. But if they triumph, they will be brooding eggs by the time those who lallygagged show up.

But this is merely human conjecture. Because, as any waterman will tell you, we humans don’t really know all that much about the birds. The more we learn, the smarter we realize they are.

Till next time, remember “It’s Our Bay, Let’s Pass It On.”

Catch up on Messages from the Cap’n Member Page. Please visit Cap’n Jack’s lore and share with your social media sites. Or reach him here: [email protected] or 240-434-1385.

One Response to “Message from the Cap’n – Osprey Return”
  1. JEFFREY CLARK says:


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