Report an Osprey sighting

Have you seen an Osprey? Where and when did you see it? What kind of behavior did you witness?

Below is an observation guide provided by Wildlife Biologist, Sergej Postupalsky, who has studied Michigan Ospreys for 50+ years. Feel free to use this as your guide.

Optimum times for checking Osprey nests for:

1. Occupancy/Incubation mid-May
2. Production/Number of young mid-July to 3rd

In individual pairs the timing of breeding tends to be quite consistent from year to year. A new pair, nesting for the first time, however, may be late by as much as 3-4 weeks. The same may happen if a mate change has occurred and there is a new (young) female.

To determine if a nest has been repaired in the current nesting season look for new sticks on top – sticks with fresh breaks. This becomes important when no incubating adult is seen. Incubating adults may sit very low in the nest so that only the top of the head may be visible. Sometimes not even that is visible. The trick is to whistle, clap one’s hands or honk the car horn. The incubating bird’s head will pop up briefly to look around.
Later, if adults are present and defending, there is a high probability that young are in the nest. To see them may take some time. Ospreys are very attentive and guard the young; one – usually the female – is almost always present. When she becomes aware of an approaching intruder, she will vocalize and the young – even large ones as big as she – will flatten low in the nest and out of sight. Therefore, it is best to watch through a scope from a distance or try to sneak up closer behind some cover. It may take some time before the young come into view. I’ve waited as long as an hour or more. A youngster may stretch a wing, or rise up to defecate. The best one can hope for is that the male will come in with a fish, in which case all of the young are likely to stand up – or at least raise their heads. One other way to tell if young are present is to look around the base of the tree, snag or platform for accumulated fecal matter. Much “whitewash”, including some that is fresh, will indicate the presence of young, but you won’t be able to see them until you’ve put some distance between you and the nest and the adult has quieted down and relaxed (in a sense sounded the “all clear” signal).

Adults can often be sexed in the field. The female is slightly larger than the male, usually noticeable when they are standing or perched side-by-side. The female has heavier and darker brown blotching on her chest. As a rule, the male has much less, and if present, the spots are fewer, smaller and paler.
This works in about 9 out of 10 cases. Occasionally, one encounters a pair with the female’s spotting is below average and the male’s is above average, all of which will make them hard to tell apart. Downy young have a prominent white dorsal stripe. The stripe becomes covered when the chick develops body feathers at about 4 weeks of age. Nestlings can thus be aged as being <4 or >4 weeks old. In feathered young and fledglings the dark brown body feathers are each edged with salmon or whitish color, giving the bird a spotted appearance. This and some tan feathers on the back of the head help to tell a fledgling from an adult – in reasonably good light, at least. Also, about fledging time eye color changes from brown to orange (but this varies between individuals). Young fledge – starting to fly – between 7 and 8 weeks of age; males a few days earlier than the larger, heavier females. This knowledge may help one judge if a missing young may have already fledged and left the nest. Fledglings tend to return to the nest at feeding time when an adult comes in with food. In such instances they may materialize out of nowhere.

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