Hellgate Ospreys

Location: Missoula, MT

Camera Host: Montana Osprey Project on Facebook

Find more about Weather in Missoula, MT

November 02, 2017

Photos Of Louis for Sale To Support Montana Osprey Project

Calendars, prints, and mugs of Louis are now available for sale by photographer Andrew Udall Lee, who happened to capture Louis capturing a fish in the Clark Ford River during the 2017 breeding season. All profits will be donated to the Montana Osprey Project. Check out the selection available from Victor Udall Photography at http://victorudall.com/shop More...

October 18, 2017

Male Northern Flicker Drops By Hellgate Again

Check out this long visit by a male Northern Flicker in Missoula, MT. Be sure to check out the end of the clip where he shows off the red-tinged feathers of his underwing, which designate the bird as a Red-shafted Flicker. Did you know there are two easily distinguishable subspecies of Northern Flickers across North America? Red-shafted Flickers are found in the western regions of this species's range, whereas Yellow-shafted Flickers are found in the east! Learn more about how they differ at www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Flicker/id. More...

October 02, 2017

Pileated Woodpecker Drills Away On Hellgate Nest Pole

Watch this female Pileated Woodpecker spend a few minutes chiseling away at the pole that supports the nesting platform on the Hellgate Osprey cam. These large woodpeckers search for carpenter ants—their primary food source—and other insects by drilling large rectangular-shaped holes into dead and live trees, logs, stumps, and the occasional Osprey nesting pole. 

October 18, 2017

Male Northern Flicker Drops By Hellgate Again

Check out this long visit by a male Northern Flicker in Missoula, MT. Be sure to check out the end of the clip where he shows off the red-tinged feathers of his underwing, which designate the bird as a Red-shafted Flicker. Did you know there are two easily distinguishable subspecies of Northern Flickers across North America? Red-shafted Flickers are found in the western regions of this species's range, whereas Yellow-shafted Flickers are found in the east! Learn more about how they differ at www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Flicker/id. More...

October 02, 2017

Pileated Woodpecker Drills Away On Hellgate Nest Pole

Watch this female Pileated Woodpecker spend a few minutes chiseling away at the pole that supports the nesting platform on the Hellgate Osprey cam. These large woodpeckers search for carpenter ants—their primary food source—and other insects by drilling large rectangular-shaped holes into dead and live trees, logs, stumps, and the occasional Osprey nesting pole. 

September 06, 2017

Red-shafted Northern Flicker Stops In Hellgate

Look who popped by the nest for a close up on the Hellgate Osprey cam. This handsome woodpecker is a Northern Flicker. You might notice that the undersides of the wing and tail feathers are red on this bird, but did you know that these feathers are bright yellow in some other Northern Flickers? The red-shafted subspecies is found in western North America, whereas the yellow-shafted subspecies inhabits eastern regions! 

September 11

Iris and Louis Migrate South For The Winter

It seems that Iris and Louis have moved on from Hellgate in search of warmer weather! The last confirmed sighting of Louis at the nest was on September 4th and Iris on September 8th. The last sighting of an Osprey in the Hellgate area was on September 10th. We wish the pair a safe migration, and we hope to see them back in Hellgate for nest breeding season! 

June 18

Montana Osprey Project Comments on Loss of Hellgate Nest

Montana Osprey Project leader Dr. Erick Greene commented today on the difficult events leading up to the nest's failure. Click "More" to see his Facebook post (you do not need to be "on" Facebook to read). More...

June 18

Remaining Two Nestlings Perish

We are sad to share that the difficult foraging conditions have resulted in the two remaining nestlings perishing from starvation over the weekend of June 17-18. The camera will continue to broadcast from the nest, allowing us to see what comes next for Iris and Louis. 

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. Her mate of many years, Stanley, did not return in 2016, and she attempted to breed with a new male dubbed “Louis”, named after an influential local Salish elder named Louis Adams

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.