Challenges of a Juvenile Osprey

Learning to fly is hard work. Especially when faced with natural and non-natural obstacles. The osprey nest I have been watching since the spring has already gone through the loss of its first clutch and the rebuilding of their nest. The second clutch has been successful with the mating pair having 1 offspring. He’s grown quickly and now it’s time for him to prepare to leave the nest and forage on his own. First things first, he must learn to fly. 

I didn’t get to the osprey nest until just after sunrise. A flock of white pelicans caught my attention while I was on my way to the nest, so I stopped to photograph them in the sunrise light. They’re so awkwardly graceful and fun to watch. 

White pelicans preening at dawn

When I arrived at my usual viewing location alongside the road, I rolled down the passenger window so I could sit on the ledge. As I rolled down the driver’s window, I glanced across the road and saw an osprey perched low on a branch. It was the juvenile. I had missed his initial, possibly ungraceful, descent from the nest. This was his first day learning to fly. 

Juvenile Osprey perched on low branch

He remained there, looking around for a while, startling at the occasional sound of an airplane taking off from the nearby airport, or just resting and closing his eyes. I guess the newfound physical exertion was exhausting. 

Juvenile Osprey resting

He finally decided to give his wings another try. He spread them wide and flapped several times but remained on the branch. After a brief rest, he tried again, and this time made a long leap off the branch and behind the shrubs.  

Juvenile Osprey trying flight again

Several more leaps brought him next to the wire fence. As I watched from my car, I quietly chanted “please don’t’ get caught on the fence” over and over. It turns out that he’s a pretty smart young bird, because he lowered his head and carefully walked between the horizontal wires. Whew. But now he was on the road side of the fence. 

He made several more attempts at flight, strengthening those fragile wings. He was now on the wide rocky shoulder of the two-lane road, which very few passenger cars traveled along, but is frequented by big ag work trucks. While he was on the side of the road, he was relatively safe. 

Juvenile Osprey

Now I already said that this young bird was “pretty smart”. Well, I retract that statement. He quickly became a not-so-smart young bird because he hopped and flapped himself right into the road. Luckily, there were no vehicles at that time. I kept willing the osprey to get off the road, but he wouldn’t go. I know he was tired, but he just didn’t understand the hazards facing him if he stayed there much longer. I wasn’t going to let him find out the hard way. 

Silly Juvenile Osprey hanging out in the middle of the road

Then came the first truck. I yelled at the bird to move, but to no avail. I had to do something quick. From the side of the road I flagged down the truck. The driver stopped and asked if the bird was injured. I said “no” and explained what was happening. He got out of his truck and we shooed the juvenile off the road. I told the driver that we couldn’t touch him and hoped that our shooing him off the road wasn’t considered harassment, especially since we were trying to protect him. 

The driver told me he would tell others he would see during the day to drive slowly through that area, per my request. Thank you, Mr. Truck Driver.  I ended up stopping five trucks that morning because the osprey decided to hop back into the road. And all of them said they would let others know and that they’d take it slow through there for the next few days while the juvenile osprey strengthened his wings.

All those efforts paid off. I returned a couple days later and saw the juvenile in the nest with a parent. Yay! He had survived flight training.

Juvenile osprey (left) in the nest with adult osprey
Juvenile osprey flying
Juvenile osprey flying back to nest

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