About two weeks ago, in midAugust, the highly visible Osprey nest at Battle Point Park came down. The nest sits atop a platform that sits atop a cell tower that sits atop a water tower in the middle of a grassy field. A large chunk of the nest was wedged below the platform in the tower scaffolding, and branches and moss were strewn about on the ground below. The Osprey spend the warm season here raising their young and then fly down to most likely Central Mexico for the winter. (Click photos to enlarge.)
Again this year the nest is down before the Osprey have departed, which should happen in the next few weeks. The same thing happened last year and in 2011, and the Park District told me they believed the nest had blown down.
Why is the nest down again? In the days preceding its “fall” there was no rain and barely a rippling breeze, let alone a storm. Some people are wondering if the Park District or cell tower workers removed it, but Bainbridge Park Services Superintendent Dan Hamlin confirmed for me that the Park District did not remove it (and doesn’t want to) and neither did cell tower workers, who actually put the platform there for the Osprey to use. “No one has been up there,” Hamlin said.
When I asked Hamlin if a citizen could have gotten up to the nest, he said it is highly unlikely and that a person would need special equipment like a crane to do so. Of course climbing up to the water tower has not deterred the occasional graffiti tagger, but getting up to the nest would be a much taller order.
So what’s up?
A Reluctant Flier
For years I have been observing the osprey on a daily basis on my outings to the Park, and I previously observed them when they nested in a tree just north of the park in the Venice Loop neighborhood before relocating to the Park after their nest fell apart in a fierce storm.
In the last few weeks I have observed a particularly noisy drama play out between a parent and a fledgling. It is quite obvious that the parent is working each day, hour after hour, to encourage and teach its baby to fly. Whenever I pass through the Park, I see the parent calling to the juvenile, who often sits unresponsive for long stretches on the platform. I have seen the parent try perching nearby on the cell tower flapping and calling to its young one. Most recently it has begun sitting in a Douglas fir tree on Battle Point Road a little ways west of the platform. It calls over and over to its baby, swiveling its head toward the platform to track the baby’s response. Sometimes the parent will fly away, and the baby will call after it plaintively. And sometimes, thank goodness, the young osprey will fly with its parent.
I wondered if perhaps the parents had taken down their own nest to encourage their baby to fly. I couldn’t find documentation of such behavior, so I called the president, Jim Ullrich, of our local Kitsap Audubon chapter and asked him what he thought. He said he hadn’t heard of Osprey doing that but thought it was plausible. He suggested I call Bainbridge Islander and former Kitsap Audubon Chapter president Judy Willott. When I spoke with her, she said she was unaware of such behavior, speculating that the birds might do such a thing in a case of bird lice infestation in their nest. Both Ullrich and Willott suggested I speak with an Osprey expert.
I contacted the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University and described the situation at Battle Point Park. Alan Poole, who has studied Osprey nesting habits for 30 years, said he doubted the birds would have taken down their own nest:
“Quite the opposite, they usually spend time building it up before they leave. It’s an investment they need to maintain—it would be like you knocking down your Bainbridge Island summer home before you left for the winter in Seattle, and then coming back each spring to start over, with a new baby or two in hand. . . . Same for Ospreys. They need a quick start when they get back, a place to lay eggs as soon as possible. If they have to spend time doing serious nest building, they lay late and they’re at a disadvantage. Young fledged early are most likely to survive long-term.”
Indeed, it seems nonsensical that they would tear down their own nest. On the other hand, in my recollection their nest at the Park has never stood up to the strong winter winds that whip through there, and they always have to rebuild when they return in the Spring.
For now the Battle Point Park Osprey mystery remains unsolved. In the meantime, straighten up and fly right Baby!
- Photos of the Week: Osprey Family Returns to Battle Point Park, Rebuilds Nest
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- Photos of the Week: Battle Point Park Osprey
Featured photo shows adult Osprey with fish in its right talon. Photo of fish on in the grass courtesy of Marilynn Gottlieb. Other photos by Julie Hall and Sarah Lane.