Hellgate Ospreys

Location: Missoula, MT

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May 20, 2016

Louis Brings Stick to Nest

Louis, the male on the Hellgate Osprey nest, brought in a large stick to add to the nest this morning. The eggs still have a few weeks to go before they hatch – the earliest projected hatch date is June 7 (36 days after oldest surviving egg was laid) – but there's no harm in being prepared!  

May 18, 2016

New Male Named "Louis"

"On 25 April of this year, Louis Adams passed away. Louis Adams was a revered Salish elder who lived just north of Missoula on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The new male Osprey on the Hellgate cam showed up a day after Louis Adams passed away. Louis Adams led a full and rich life: he was a jockey when he was a young man; he was in the Navy and served the United States in the Korean War; after he returned he did many things including working in forestry on the Flathead Reservation. But, foremost, Louis Adams was an amazing cultural leader and historian of his Salish people and this land. At the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Missoula College right next to the Hellgate nest, Louis Adams was asked to speak. He gave a Salish blessing to the Osprey nest and the new Missoula College building. After that he told us stories about how his Grandmother had been born and lived in a teepee right across the river from Iris’ nest. This land was the center of the homeland of the Salish people, and it was very moving to have Louis Adams bless this spot and Iris and her family. So the “new guy” is named "Louis" after Louis Adams. I feel very lucky that we have Louis’ namesake now flying over the Clark Fork River, catching fish, and starting a new family with Iris. We send our sincere condolences and blessings to the Adams family, and thank them for graciously allowing us to honor the memory of Louis Adams this way." – Dr. Erick Greene, University of Montana  

May 18, 2016

Fish Delivery, Incubation Switch

"New Guy" delivers a fish to the incubating Iris, who flies off with the food as New Guy cleans his beak, rolls the eggs and settles down to incubate. 

May 20, 2016

Louis Brings Stick to Nest

Louis, the male on the Hellgate Osprey nest, brought in a large stick to add to the nest this morning. The eggs still have a few weeks to go before they hatch – the earliest projected hatch date is June 7 (36 days after oldest surviving egg was laid) – but there's no harm in being prepared!  

May 18, 2016

Fish Delivery, Incubation Switch

"New Guy" delivers a fish to the incubating Iris, who flies off with the food as New Guy cleans his beak, rolls the eggs and settles down to incubate. 

May 10, 2016

Both Ospreys on Nest, Glimpse of 3 Eggs

Here's a great clip from our cam volunteer Barry R. Iris calls back and forth with "New Guy" who flies in and copulates with Iris. They both continue to call as Iris stands up providing a glimpse of three eggs under her.  

May 18

New Male Named "Louis"

"On 25 April of this year, Louis Adams passed away. Louis Adams was a revered Salish elder who lived just north of Missoula on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The new male Osprey on the Hellgate cam showed up a day after Louis Adams passed away. Louis Adams led a full and rich life: he was a jockey when he was a young man; he was in the Navy and served the United States in the Korean War; after he returned he did many things including working in forestry on the Flathead Reservation. But, foremost, Louis Adams was an amazing cultural leader and historian of his Salish people and this land. At the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Missoula College right next to the Hellgate nest, Louis Adams was asked to speak. He gave a Salish blessing to the Osprey nest and the new Missoula College building. After that he told us stories about how his Grandmother had been born and lived in a teepee right across the river from Iris’ nest. This land was the center of the homeland of the Salish people, and it was very moving to have Louis Adams bless this spot and Iris and her family. So the “new guy” is named "Louis" after Louis Adams. I feel very lucky that we have Louis’ namesake now flying over the Clark Fork River, catching fish, and starting a new family with Iris. We send our sincere condolences and blessings to the Adams family, and thank them for graciously allowing us to honor the memory of Louis Adams this way." – Dr. Erick Greene, University of Montana  

May 12

5th Egg Laid

Another egg was laid this evening, bringing Iris' total output to 5 eggs on the year. Only three are still in the nest—one was stolen by a raven, another was broken and removed (part of this egg is now on top of one of the other eggs). 

May 09

Egg 4 Laid

Iris laid another egg this afternoon. "New Guy" - a male Osprey - has been bringing fish to the nest regularly for Iris. 

Osprey

Tree

Nest Placement

Ospreys require nest sites in open surroundings for easy approach, with a wide, sturdy base and safety from ground predators (such as raccoons). Nests are usually built on snags, treetops, or crotches between large branches and trunks; on cliffs or human-built platforms. Usually the male finds the site before the female arrives.

Nest Description

Osprey nests are built of sticks and lined with bark, sod, grasses, vines, algae, or flotsam and jetsam. The male usually fetches most of the nesting material—sometimes breaking dead sticks off nearby trees as he flies past—and the female arranges it. Nests on artificial platforms, especially in a pair’s first season, are relatively small—less than 2.5 feet in diameter and 3–6 inches deep. After generations of adding to the nest year after year, Ospreys can end up with nests 10–13 feet deep and 3–6 feet in diameter—easily big enough for a human to sit in.

Clutch Size

1-4 eggs

Incubation Period

36-42 days

Nestling Period

50-55 days

Egg Description

Cream to pinkish cinnamon; wreathed and spotted with reddish brown.

Condition at Hatching

Capable of limited motion. Covered with down and with eyes open.

Fish

Food

The Osprey is the only hawk on the continent that eats almost exclusively live fish. In North America, more than 80 species of live fresh- and saltwater fish account for 99 percent of the Osprey’s diet. Captured fish usually measure about 6–13 inches in length and weigh one-third to two-thirds of a pound. The largest catch on record weighed about 2.5 pounds. On very rare occasions, Ospreys have been observed feeding on fish carcasses or on birds, snakes, voles, squirrels, muskrats, and salamanders. Ospreys probably get most of the water they need from the flesh of their prey, although there are reports of adults drinking on hot days.

Typical Voice

Ospreys have high-pitched, whistling voices. Their calls can be given as a slow succession of chirps during flight or as an alarm call—or strung together into a series that rises in intensity and then falls away, similar to the sound of a whistling kettle taken rapidly off a stove. This second type of call is most often given as an unfamiliar Osprey approaches the nest. As the perceived threat increases, the call can build in intensity to a wavering squeal.
more sounds

See full Species Info at All About Birds

About the Hellgate Canyon Ospreys

This Osprey nest is at the mouth of the spectacular Hellgate Canyon at the edge of Missoula, Montana. It’s in a very busy location, right outside the Riverside Health Care Center and next to busy parking lots, a construction site, a busy highway, and a railroad. However, it’s also an ideal location in many ways, since these Ospreys have riverfront property only about 50 feet from the Clark Fork River. Being so close to people does not bother them, and hundreds of people enjoy watching them every day.

The female Osprey at this nest is called Iris because she has very distinctive spots on her iris, especially in her left eye. These iris patterns serve as individual barcodes and allow us to identify her. She has nested at this site for many years.

Ospreys are consummate fishing birds, and this pair fishes primarily from the Clark Fork River and nearby Rattlesnake Creek. They use their 6–7 foot wingspans to soar above the water, looking for fish, then diving as deep as 3 feet for shallow-swimming prey. Adult Ospreys usually weigh 3–4 pounds, and they can carry prey up to 50 percent of their own weight. Ospreys can live up to 25 years, and they typically lay 1–4 eggs in a clutch.

Most Osprey pairs are monogamous, staying paired across seasons and beginning nesting soon after each returns from a long migration. Both sexes incubate the eggs. The female sits for the majority of the time (including throughout the night) while the male provisions her with fish. After the eggs hatch, the male continues to bring fish to the nest; the female exclusively broods the young and dissects their meals for about a month after hatching. Later on, when the chicks no longer require her protection and their appetite for fish increases, she will leave the nest and go fishing.

The nest used to be on a power pole about 200 feet west of where it is now. This was dangerous, since the Ospreys could have been electrocuted, causing fires and power blackouts. In 2007, the current nest platform was erected to provide a safer place for the Ospreys to nest. They took to it immediately. Getting the new nest platform set up, and installing and running to high resolution camera for this feed for you to enjoy has been a large effort involving many groups: Riverside Health Care Center, Karen Wagner, Kate Davis and Raptors of the Rockies, Northwestern Energy, Dave Taylor Roofing Company, and Drs. Heiko Langner and Erick Greene of the University of Montana.

About Project Osprey

These Ospreys are an important part of a much larger project focusing on the health of aquatic systems and Osprey populations in western Montana. In collaboration with Rob Domenech (Director of the Raptor View Research Institute), Dr. Heiko Langner and Dr. Erick Greene started Project Osprey in 2007. They have been monitoring about 200 Osprey nests in western Montana.

Because of their top position in the food web, Ospreys are useful indicators of local environmental conditions. Young Ospreys eat only fish their parents catch within a few miles of the nest, so these young birds reflect the condition of the local fish population. And although many hawk species can be touchy—even dangerous—to work with, Ospreys make good subjects: they tolerate human activity well and they actually seek out human-made structures to use as nest platforms.

Osprey populations declined to near-extinction in the Lower 48 states after World War II as a consequence of exposure to DDT-based pesticides. The dwindling Osprey population helped trigger research into problems with DDT, resulting in its ban in the United States in 1972. Since then, Ospreys have returned to many large water bodies. Studies such as this one help scientists keep a watchful eye on how Ospreys—and the water bodies they depend on—are doing.

Since young Ospreys eat fish that their parents catch usually within a few miles of the nest, the young birds reflect the condition of the local water quality and fish. When the chicks are large enough to band, the researchers use a large bucket truck to get up to the nests. They take very small blood and feather samples from the chicks and put them quickly back in their nest. These samples are analyzed in Dr. Langner’s state-of-the-art environmental chemistry lab. The good news is that levels of some of the heavy metals of particular concern in western Montana (arsenic, lead, cadmium, zinc, and copper) occur at very low levels in the Osprey chicks. The bad news is that levels of mercury, a powerful neurotoxin, occurs in very high levels in Osprey chicks in some places. Project Osprey is now focusing on this serious environmental problem.