2016-05-19 / Nature

Raptors Cuddle, Coo, and Woo

By Jack Kelly

When fully extended, the ospreys’ wingspan is nearly five feet. 
(Photo by Jack Kelly) When fully extended, the ospreys’ wingspan is nearly five feet. (Photo by Jack Kelly) The natural world is full of many examples of pair bonding and the almost human-like activities of wildlife. In the past seven weeks, the nesting pair of ospreys at Gooseneck Cove salt marshes has given many observers a view inside the behaviors of the species. With the nest visible to the public, the pair has been on display as they courted, mated and the female laid her eggs. For many, this has been an exciting experience to share with children, friends and family.

Standing nearly two feet tall and possessing five-foot wingspans, these magnificent mated for life birds of prey are the only raptor species that eats fish exclusively. The pair’s daring dives into the waters of Gooseneck Cove and nearby Lily Pond have thrilled bird watchers and casual visitors alike.

Osprey pairs share egg incubation duties, and biologists estimate that the split is approximately 60- 40 percent, with the female contributing the larger amount of incubation time. The average shift of each bird depends on weather, wind direction, and temperature, but seems to be in the three-to four-hour range. Their shift change is somewhat dramatic and offers an intriguing look into the pair’s interaction with each other.

On a recent overcast and cool morning, the male flew to the nest with a small fish in his talons. He landed close to his mate and the two exchanged soft, almost sweet whistles and touched their beaks together in an almost human-like kiss. The female, a little stiff from the cold temperatures, rose slowly off the eggs and stretched her legs and wings. The male slid the fish to her and moved to gingerly take his place over the eggs. The female, still whistling to her mate in soft even tones, flew with the fish to a nearby dead tree to enjoy her meal. The pair repeats this behavior every few hours, much to the delight of observers.

The eggs are due to hatch in about three weeks and the birds will have their talons full feeding, teaching, and raising their young.

Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others.

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