Osprey Murder Update

January 16, 2016

Nature Notes by Bill Dunson

After the discovery of the head of one of our beloved nesting ospreys on our front walk on Jan. 14, I surmised that a pair of great horned owls had killed it in the process of taking over the osprey nest. This is an update to report on observations at the nest during the first day after this gruesome discovery.

The surviving osprey is a female based on the dark markings on her breast, so the male must have been killed. Although the killer(s) were assumed to be great horned owls, this became definitive when an owl flew to the nest site in the evening of Jan. 14 and began eating the body of the male osprey which was hanging in the Norfolk Island pine just below the nest. My photo illustrates the face of the owl and the extended wing of the dead osprey below and to the right. The female osprey flew close to the owl and repeatedly harassed it; the owl responded with bill snapping.

The widowed female osprey returned to the nest site during the day of Jan. 15, but vocalized hardly at all, which is quite unusual. In the late afternoon she perched on top of the pine and called, seemingly in defiance of the owls and the loss of her mate. She flapped her wings and suddenly another osprey (sex unknown) flew by and she followed it.

The owls were calling that evening but have not yet taken residence in the nest.

Tune in for future updates to this fascinating story!

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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