Trouble in Paradise?

Late on Tuesday, April 1st, I received this note from fellow Osprey colleague Don Riepe, Jamaica Bay Guardian for the American Littoral Society:

At 10am he [Coley II or C2] was in Virginia. At 10am I saw the female only on the nest platform [in Jamaica Bay]. However, at 6pm, there were two ospreys on the nest. Could it be that he [C2] made it here by then? I’ll check again tomorrow morning.

Hopefully it was him and not some young interloper stealing his mate! :>) Don

I responded with the following:

Thanks Don! C2 has done some amazing flying but even with a good 20 mph tail wind, it would take him a full 8 hours at 45 mph ground speed to get there. Chances are that it is another male moving in. All that said, love (a pair bond) is a powerful force and once C2 got moving today he probably sensed that home and his mate were not that far away. Will be very interesting to see what you find out tomorrow! Adds drama to an already dramatic story.

So here is the rest of the story! The last data point we now have for C2 is at 5 pm on April 1st, one hour before Don saw two Ospreys together on C2’s nest. At that time C2 was in Springfield, Virginia at the massive junction of I-95, I-495 and I-395 just southwest of Washington, DC. He was about 220 miles from home. In the 7 hours that he had been flying that day, he had covered 160 miles at an average speed of about 23 mph — fast, but not fast enough to cover the 350 miles necessary to reach his nest by 6 pm.

So we have some Bad News and some Good News.

The Bad News first. When C2 arrives home, he will find that another male is courting his mate. She has been waiting for C2 since March 18th or about 14 days before the new male showed up. Even though Ospreys mate for life, they do take on another mate when their mate dies or disappears. Each day that C2 did not show up decreased the strength of her bond with him, making her more likely to accept the advances of another male. So when C2 returns, he will have to deal with the “Interloper.”

Now for the Good News! C2 may have arrived at Jamaica Bay yesterday (April 2nd) late in the afternoon. It is not beyond his abilities to cover the 220 miles from Washington, DC to Jamaica Bay in one day. Or if he did not make it yesterday, he almost certainly will make it home today, April 3rd. This means that the new male will only have been around one or two days, not enough time to develop a pair bond as strong as C2’s with his mate. So, I suspect that when he comes home he will easily drive the other male away and quickly rekindle the bond with his mate. Does any of this sound familiar?

Day 17 – April 1st – C2 flew from southern Virginia to northern Virginia today and by our last data point at 5 pm, he was just inside the I-495 Beltway around Washington, DC. I am sure that he continued flying for another hour or two in which case he probably spent the night somewhere around Baltimore, Maryland. If so he only had around 170 miles to go before reaching Jamaica Bay -– very doable for a bird that has flown non-stop for over 500 miles!

Stay tuned as the drama of the Osprey “love” triangle unfolds!

C2 and Dr. Bob signing off.

Bull’s eyes = Osprey’s location every hour.
Lines = Sequence of locations in time (not the actual flight path)
Times in the data points are Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

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  1. Please let us know asap! Please, please don’t delay posting C2’s arrival and the ensuing events. Waiting … holding breathe and crossing fingers!

    • Ann, the reason why the reports are never up to date as of the present day is that we don’t get the satellite information in real time. The data is downloaded by Dr. Bob periodically (actually he’s checking very frequently now that C2 is so close) but even so, it doesn’t go up to the present moment. However, there’s a chance that Don Riepe or one of the other folks on site at Jamaica Bay will see C2 coming in. That’s what happened last year with Coley I and we reported it right away. I know Don is on the lookout now, so there’s a good chance it will happen again — though unless he sees the antenna from the transmitter, he will have to forward photos to Dr. Bob for a positive identification. Rest assured — we are all on tenterhooks too!

  2. Will the tracing device be removed from C2 when he gets back? Does it interfere with his mating or does it play no part whatsoever? Also, when will a tracing device be placed on a female osprey to see where she migrates. I think it would be interesting to see if she remains in the US since the females seem to get back to the nest so much earlier than the male. Thanks for all your hardwork on this project.

    • Good questions. The device does not interfere with mating. It is a tiny one-ounce box with an antenna strapped on the back. Last year, one of the straps holding Coley I’s transmitter broke and he still mated successfully, ending up with two healthy chicks. As to what happens next — this is a two-year research project, which only has funding for about another month. So, unless something changes, C2’s transmitter will be removed this spring and will not be placed on a new bird. I will see if Dr. Bob has any information to offer on where females migrate to.

    • Ospreys from North Carolina to Maine end up wintering all over northern South America. Since they do not migrate in flocks but as individuals, each returns north on its own schedule and arrives as weather permits — usually within a week of the same time each year. The fact that Coley II’s (C2’s) mate arrived a few weeks before him does not mean that she had less distance to go to get back to Jamaica Bay. She may have been farther — maybe even a 1,000 or more miles farther into Peru, Brazil or ??? — but departed earlier and/or had better weather conditions.

      I suspect that last year C2’s mate was a young female that was returning for the first time to breed in Jamaica Bay. She probably came back about the middle of March and no males were seeking new mates at the time. Then C2 returned, probably about this time last year. His previous mate may have given up on him or not returned so he got a new mate (his current one). They settled on the current platform, which had been put up two years earlier, but hadn’t been used till then. The very poor nest construction indicates that both he and his mate were inexperienced nesters. Without question, it was the most poorly constructed Osprey nest that I have ever seen, out of several thousand that I have studied or visited!

      Dr. Bob


  1. C2 the Osprey's Competition | Osprey's Journey - April 17, 2014

    […] by Jamaica Bay Guardian Don Riepe on April 3rd, of C2’s nest, presumably showing his mate and the “Interloper” who seems to be courting her in C2’s absence. Don says three Ospreys were flying around the […]