As you will know if you have been following the story recently, the disappearance of 08(97) from his nest on 11th May had serious consequences for his mate, 5N(04), and the clutch of three eggs that they were incubating at Site N – a nest on private land close to Rutland Water.
Male Ospreys provide fish for their mate and also undertake about a quarter of the incubation, allowing their mate to feed and, importantly, to rest. Our first concern when 08 went missing was that 5N hadn’t fed during her mate’s absence. She had resolutely sat on the eggs, but there was only so long she could go without fish and so if we didn’t provide food for her, she would eventually go fishing for herself; leaving the eggs at the mercy of crows and other potential predators. To prevent her doing this, we erected a feeding tray near the nest and provided fish kindly donated by local anglers. 5N took our fish almost straight away-proving just how hungry she was. We continued to feed 5N in this way for the next few days.
Our fish meant that she wasn’t hungry, but the absence of 08 meant that she was having to incubate for much longer periods than usual – and being alone at the nest must have made her uneasy. With this in mind we contacted the licencing department at Natural England and applied for a licence to move the eggs or chicks should 5N abandon them.
On 20th May 5N left the nest at 7am and flew to the reservoir to bathe – leaving the eggs unattended for more than half an hour; the first indication that she was less settled. Sure enough, she was on and off the eggs all morning, and then stopped incubating in the afternoon.
It was evident that she had now given up on incubation and so, in an effort to save the chicks, we removed the eggs and incubated them artificially. We weren’t particularly hopeful that any of the eggs would hatch because they had been left uncovered for several prolonged periods. As the photo below shows though, one did. We moved it to the Site O nest where there were three chicks of exactly the same age -important if we were going to ensure that there was not any aggression in the nest. The photo was taken when the chicks were a few days old. Of the other two eggs in the Site N nest one sadly died during hatching (probably because it was very weak after insufficient incubation) and the third egg failed completely (possibly for the same reason).
Site O, like Site N, is a nest on private land close to Rutland Water. AA(06) raised three chicks with his Scottish mate there last year and we felt that he would be able to cope with the addition of an extra chick. There are several records of Ospreys raising four chicks, but in an effort to give the chick every chance of surviving we have been putting fish (again kindly donated by local anglers) close to the nest – as we did for 5N at Site N. Of course there is no guarantee that this chick will survive – particularly in view of the fact that incubation was not constant after 08’s disappearance – but we feel we have done everything we can to help. We will keep you informed of progress at the nest.
Meanwhile, 5N spent several days wandering away from Site N, but she has now returned and has been joined at the nest by 09(98). You may recall that 09 is unpaired and caused trouble at the Site B nest earlier in the summer. He has been catching fish for 5N and they now seem very settled together – a very good sign for next year.
Thanks to the tremendous generosity of project volunteers and supporters, we have now raised enough money to satellite tag at least two male birds this summer. Bearing in mind that 09 has taken over 08’s territory, we hope to fit a transmitter to him, along with perhaps AA(06), in the next couple of weeks. This will mean we can follow exactly where the birds are fishing, and if either bird disappears as 08 did, we will know where. Once again we’ll be sure to keep you up to date with developments.
Finally I would like to thank everyone who has either sent messages of support or donations for the satellite tracking fund, in the past few weeks. Your support has been greatly appreciated during what has been a very worrying and taxing time for the project. It’s great to know so many people are behind what we are trying to achieve; to get this magnificent bird back to where it belongs throughout southern Britain.