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Jul 15, 2019 11:31 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Watching Eagles And Ospreys

Ospreys on the lookout for bald eagles?  MIKE BOTTINI MIKE BOTTINI
Jul 15, 2019 12:10 PM

While watching the Accabonac eagle nest this month, I noticed that the adults spend very little time there, and was curious as to why they would leave the young unattended for such long periods during the day. Were they out fishing? With large schools of bunker in our area, it seems a fishing trip would be a very short affair.On July 5, the darker of the two young eagles spread its wings and leaped off the edge of the nest for a short flight around the adjacent marsh, circling back home for a perfect landing. It was such a smooth flight that I suspect it was not its first. Could the absence of parents be an enticement for the young to try getting airborne? Meanwhile, over several visits since, I have not seen its sibling take to the air.

The nearby osprey nests now have visible hatchlings, and the adults seem much more aggressive toward the resident bald eagles. I found it interesting that ospreys do not harass the eagle chicks, now much larger than an adult osprey, but “sitting ducks” in their exposed nest. On the other hand, without fail, a small squadron of ospreys will follow and dive-bomb the adult eagle as it flies back to its nest, whether it has a fish meal in its talons for its young or is empty-taloned and just checking in with them.

The ospreys are very careful to steer clear of the eagle’s business end, its powerful toes and sharp talons, attacking from above and immediately veering away when the eagle rolls over in mid flight and prepares to rake the closest attacker with its feet. This exchange continues after the eagle has perched on the nest, with the irate ospreys clearly targeting the adult eagle and paying no mind to the adult-sized young. After a few minutes of dodging ospreys, the adult eagle vacates its nest and the ospreys head back to their respective nests and roosting areas.

I wondered if the adult eagles decided to watch their young from a distance, away from the nest, to avoid being harassed by the ospreys. Not only for the adult eagles’ sake, but to avoid alarming the hatchlings and perhaps causing one that is not ready to fly to leap off the nest and out of harm’s way.

Last Friday at Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island, world osprey expert Alan Poole spoke about his extensive research and experiences—over 35 years—with this unique bird of prey. Aptly nick-named the “Fish Hawk,” it is the only hawk in the world that dines exclusively on live-caught fish. As to its relationship with bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), Poole writes, “It is the big burly Haliaeetus eagles that may pose the biggest threats to ospreys, however. With eight species globally, about half of which overlap with ospreys in their preference for aquatic habitats, these eagles are well known to be determined pirates of fishing ospreys, robbing them of their prey in dramatic, twisting aerial pursuits. But the eagles also snatch young from their nests.”

“Nevertheless,” Poole continues, “the population impacts, so far, appear to be minimal …” He points out that in the Chesapeake Bay, where 2,000 pairs of nesting bald eagles and over 9,000 pairs of nesting ospreys share the bay’s estuarine habitat, careful studies have shown that osprey reproduction hasn’t suffered.

There, as in Accabonac, ospreys nest relatively close together and it appears to be a case of safety in numbers. At the approach of an eagle near an osprey nest, two to three adult (usually male) ospreys will take flight and in the ensuing aerial “dogfight,” outmaneuver the lone eagle until it leaves the area.

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