Friends of Smith Mountain Lake State Park
Monday, September 25, 2017

Osprey Watch April 2015

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE STATE PARK

OSPREY WATCH

Jim Gerhart, Friends of Smith Mountain Lake State Park

Good news! One of the early signs of spring is the return of the ospreys.  On March 23rd, both the male and female ospreys were seen on the nest at the State Park. They left the lake last September and spent the winter on the coast of South America or the Caribbean Islands.  They are returning to the nest built on a platform resting on a pole, near the R-16 channel marker behind the Discovery Center.  The platform was completed in time for the 2004 nesting season and since that time many broods have been successfully raised.  It is equipped with a live feed video camera above the nest. 

            This pair is likely the same birds who occupied the nest last year. They usually mate for life and once they arrived at the lake they immediately began rebuilding the nest and started egg laying.  The male spent little time trying to get the female’s attention by flying in a slow roller coaster pattern sometimes carrying a stick or a fish.  What really mattered to the female is the male’s ability to provide food to her and her brood.  The male has brought plenty of food in the past so she is not looking for a new suitor.

            This is likely the same pair who lost their three chicks to a raptor, probably a Great Horned Owl, last year.  They are back to try again to beat the odds that over 50% of the chicks won’t survive the first year.  Hopefully they have learned from their mistakes and will be on guard at night to defend the nest.  Maybe they are older and wiser and will cleverly outmaneuver any raptor threat that comes their way.  If experience is the best teacher, their brood may fledge this summer. Only time will tell if these common human expressions apply to them. 

As of this writing, there are three eggs on the nest.  The first egg arrived on April 9th. The eggs will take about 30 days to hatch. As the embryo nears 30 days in the egg, it will begin to breathe from an air pocket inside the egg.  It will chirp to its mother who responds and encourages the chick to peck at the shell.  It takes about a day for the chick to peck a hole big enough to exit.