Nesting Osprey Pair on Chesapeake Bay Becomes Foster Parents

Tom and Audrey at their nest. (Photo credit: Chesapeake Conservancy.)

Followers of Tom and Audrey, the osprey pair who are the focus of the Chesapeake Conservancy’s osprey webcam, received fantastic news recently, just in time for Father’s Day.

The Chesapeake Conservancy announced on June 17 that Tom and Audrey, an osprey pair who nest along the shores of Kent Island on the Chesapeake Bay, had adopted two foster chicks.

The road to parenthood began when Audrey produced three eggs. Tom and Audrey’s webcam viewers watched in anticipation as the pair tended to the eggs. As time went on, however, it became clear that the eggs were not viable. Tom was a new mate for Audrey this year, and it is not uncommon for first year mates to lack success in reproduction. Fans of the pair, and the homeowners who host Tom and Audrey’s nest, were disappointed to see them sitting faithfully on their eggs with no hope for a family this season.

The Chesapeake Conservancy consulted Dr. Paul Spitzer, a well-known ornithologist and osprey expert, who suggested that Tom and Audrey might find success as foster parents.

That’s when the Chesapeake Conservancy contacted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raptor biologist Craig Koppie of the Chesapeake Bay Field Office. After observing Tom and Audrey’s behavior and visiting their nest site, Craig determined they were excellent candidates for a successful fostering.

Early in the nesting season, two eggs were removed from a nest on Poplar Island deemed unsafe due to its location near a mooring site for a barge. The eggs were temporarily relocated to another osprey nest on Poplar Island where no disturbances were occurring. However, that nest was already home to three eggs.

The osprey chicks are healthy and ready to be relocated.  (Photo credit: Chesapeake Conservancy.)

The osprey chicks are healthy and ready to be relocated.  (Photo credit: Chesapeake Conservancy.)

Four of the five eggs hatched, while the fifth was likely pushed out by the nesting female. Osprey typically lay two eggs and sometimes three. A four-egg clutch has been documented only on rare occasions. Two nestlings have the best chance for full development due to competition between siblings.

Service biologists Peter McGowan and Robbie Callahan, who monitor bird populations on Poplar Island, joined Craig in assessing the newly hatched chicks. All four chicks were doing well, and they decided that the two chicks with the greatest body weight would be placed with Tom and Audrey.

The next day, the two foster chicks were relocated to Tom and Audrey’s nest.  Watch a video of the relocation here.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Craig Koppie (left) and landowner (at right, carrying the chicks) wade out to the foster nest as "Audrey" watches from above.  (Photo credit: Chesapeake Conservancy.)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Craig Koppie (left) and landowner (at right, carrying the chicks) wade out to the foster nest as “Audrey” watches from above.  (Photo credit: Chesapeake Conservancy.)

Upon arrival back at their nest, Tom and Audrey discovered the chicks and readily accepted them as their own, much to the delight of the property owners who host the nest.

“We were so encouraged by Dr. Spitzer’s suggestion to find a foster chick for our faithful osprey pair. The fact that he has been so successful in transferring eggs and chicks during his DDT studies was a great comfort to us,” said the family. “We are also so fortunate to have Craig Koppie’s expertise, enthusiasm and positive attitude, which allowed Tom and Audrey the chance to raise a family this season. Finally, many thanks to the dedicated folks at the Chesapeake Conservancy for putting all the pieces together to make this happen.”

“This [osprey] pair was incredibly determined to hatch and rear young. I am glad to see that a solution was possible, and it was done in a collaborative manner that was a win for wildlife and our osprey-cam viewing public,” said Craig.

Check out local news coverage of Tom and Audrey’s journey to parenthood here.

To see Tom and Audrey – and their adopted chicks! – in action, check out the Chesapeake Conservancy’s osprey webcam at www.chesapeakeconservancy.org/osprey-cam.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also maintains osprey cams, at Masonville Cove in Baltimore, Maryland; at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland, part of the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex; and at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville , New Jersey.

*Readers are reminded that all native migratory birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and that captive rearing without authorization is a violation of federal law and, in many cases, also a violation of state law.  Contact your state natural resource agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or a local animal rehabilitation center should you find young that have fallen from a nest.  Click here for more information about migratory birds, nests and chicks.

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