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Osprey Nesting Behavior

Naturally Curious is back!  Different ecosystem (western vs. eastern Vermont) but same curiosity!  This week’s posts are going to be devoted to the nesting behavior of the Osprey — the only raptor that plunge-dives feet first to catch live fish as its main prey source.

Ospreys nest within six to twelve miles of water (usually much closer).  The male collects most of the nesting material and brings it to the nest site where the female arranges it. Sticks as large as an inch-and-a-half in diameter and three feet long are collected from the ground, or (less commonly) snapped off a tree while the Osprey is in flight.  Nest-building continues throughout the incubation of the eggs as well as the brooding period — even if a nest fails, Ospreys will continue to add material to it.

Although nests built on platforms are relatively small, those built in trees or on the ground can be 10 -13 feet deep and 3 – 6 feet in diameter (the largest nests are most likely the result of several generations of nesting Ospreys).  The shape of an Osprey nest changes during the breeding cycle.  When the eggs are being incubated, the nest is bowl-shaped.  After hatching the nest flattens out, but a rim of sticks is maintained. By the time the nestlings fledge (around 50-55 days) the nest is often completely flat.

Ospreys will reuse their nest year after year, saving themselves time and energy which allows earlier laying and more surviving young. Birds whose nests fail are likely to build alternate nests and use them in subsequent years. (Birds of the World Online).

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39 responses

  1. How wonderful to have you back!!!!!

    July 20, 2020 at 8:05 am

  2. Welcome back and hope all is well!

    July 20, 2020 at 8:09 am

  3. Alice

    Oh, joy! I’ve really missed your ‘MWF’ Blog! Hope you had a smooth move. & are getting used to your new environment. That’s a gorgeous capture of a very determined looking raptor. Burrage Pond Wildlife Management Area, 1638 acres, near here, has several poles with waterfront property for the Ospreys. They tag the chicks. We’ve seen them, flying with a yummy fish-meal.

    July 20, 2020 at 8:19 am

  4. Welcome to the Banana Belt! We are glad to have you in the west.

    July 20, 2020 at 8:44 am

  5. Deborah Luquer

    Hallelujah ! You and nature…..essential

    July 20, 2020 at 9:04 am

  6. Delighted to have you back in action! One small note: did you mean to say the nests are 10 – 13 in diameter and 3 – 6 feet deep, instead of vice versa? Either way, I sincerely wish you happiness in your new digs!

    July 20, 2020 at 9:05 am

    • Hi Napatreenaturalist! Actually, I didn’t get the figures mixed up – they can be up to 13 feet deep and 6 feet in diameter! Just adding sticks on top of sticks, year after year!

      July 21, 2020 at 9:30 pm

  7. I missed your posts so much. Welcome to the Valley!

    July 20, 2020 at 9:09 am

  8. Sue Wetmore

    Welcome to our side of the state Mary!
    Many areas to be explored.
    Sue Wetmore

    July 20, 2020 at 9:17 am

  9. Rebecca Weil

    Welcome back!!! We’ve missed you. I hope your move went well. We are finding a huge amount of toadlets this year on our dirt road (cooperstown N.Y.). Many people here are commenting that they’ve never seen so many. Could you write about toadlets at some point? Particularly interested in why, this year, we are seeing so many!! Thanks! Rebecca Weil

    Sent from my iPhone


    July 20, 2020 at 9:19 am

  10. Pam Jackson

    Glad to find the Osprey in my mailbox this morning, welcome back! Hope you are settled in to your new abode.

    July 20, 2020 at 9:58 am

  11. A very big welcome back and best of luck in you rew digs. I have been watching and photographing an osprey nest for about 3 weeks. The 3 chicks are about ready to fledge. Do you know why a parent would take a fish from the nest, carry it to a tree, sometimes call for a bit and then return to the nest with the fish? Occasionally the adult will fly in with a fish and then a couple of minutes later fly back out with it. Looking forward to further osprey pictures and info.

    July 20, 2020 at 9:59 am

    • Hi Anne,
      I can’t explain the behavior you described. The male often will go to a nearby branch (or the nest) and eat first (often the fish head) and then offer the fish to the female to give to the young. I haven’t seen the behavior you describe, nor have I read about it, but will see if I can find out anything for you.

      July 21, 2020 at 9:33 pm

      • Thanks. It’s happened a lot at the nest I’m photograping mostly, I think, now that the chicks are older. They should fledge soon, so I’m wondering it the parent it trying to entice the chicks off the nest.

        July 23, 2020 at 8:22 am

  12. knox johnson

    Wonderful that you’re back Mary! We really miss seeing you around town! Been a very challenging year between quirky weather and health issues. Stay well! Knox

    July 20, 2020 at 10:01 am

  13. jonbravo

    Welcome back Mary. We’ve missed you. The Dead Creek Wildlife area is just south of you in Addison county. Maybe you will find some subject matter there.

    July 20, 2020 at 10:01 am

  14. Nancy Malcolm

    Does “plunge dive” mean getting completely submersed under water?

    On Mon, Jul 20, 2020 at 8:04 AM Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “Naturally Curious is back! Different ecosystem > (western vs. eastern Vermont) but same curiosity! This week’s posts are > going to be devoted to the nesting behavior of the Osprey — the only > raptor that plunge-dives feet first to catch live fish as its ma” >

    July 20, 2020 at 10:03 am

    • Yes, sometimes totally submerged, feet first!

      July 21, 2020 at 9:34 pm

  15. judilindsey

    Welcome back, Mary! Thanks for this fascinating info on ospreys! Judi


    July 20, 2020 at 10:07 am


    Hi Mary, I thought you would be interested in this quote from the Peterson Field Guide to Bird’s Nests re the osprey. “John Steinbeck found 3 shirts, 1 bath towel, one arrow, and his rake in nest in his garden. Also seen in nests: rope, broom, barrel staves, hoops, fishnet, toy boat, old shoes, fishlines, straw hat, rag doll, bottles, tin cans, shells, sponges, etc.” In my former work as wildlife refuge naturalist, I gave many osprey tours in Maryland. I used to read that quote to the folks who came, and they always got a chuckle out of it. Pretty amazing, isn’t it, what these birds are attracted to! Love your daily messages and glad you are back! Carol BeynaCumberland, ME

    July 20, 2020 at 10:15 am

    • That’s fascinating, Carol. Thanks so much for sharing it with me and NC readers!

      July 21, 2020 at 9:36 pm

  17. Margo Nutt

    SO glad you’re back on line!

    July 20, 2020 at 10:26 am

  18. Barbara

    Welcome back!
    Missed you.

    July 20, 2020 at 11:11 am

  19. Bill on the Hill

    Welcome back Mary! You should be in for some real treats venturing out on the west side of Vermont. The osprey looks magnificent, very nice shot too…
    I paddled a pond around (6) years back now & packed with controversy I won’t delve into on this comment, i.e. the Berlin Pond… The water was absolutely crystal clear to the mossy bottom, regardless of depth. That day I had my then brand new EF-400mm with me & shot a beautiful osprey which had a nest high above the water surface. On the way back to the not very accommodating boat launch, I encountered a aluminum Coke can on the bottom, maybe 5 ft. deep & after about (15) mins. of attempting to get it up to the water surface with my kayak paddle, I finally met success & hauled it out of there..
    I did return (1) more time that season, legally I might add, but made the decision to paddle it no more for my own reasons…
    Thanks Mary & great to have you back.

    July 20, 2020 at 11:47 am

  20. Alan Keitt

    Glad to see you back!!

    July 20, 2020 at 12:27 pm

  21. Mary Waugh

    Good to have you back Mary! I hope you are enjoying your new location. The Upper Valley misses you but I’m sure Western Vermont is happy to have you!

    July 20, 2020 at 1:32 pm

  22. Diane Alexander

    They’re back and in W. Vt now. I wonder where? Sounds like these folks are meticulous house keepers. I could take some lessons from them. XOXOXO Di

    July 20, 2020 at 1:50 pm

  23. Stein

    Glad to have you back, Mary. I hope that all’s well. Stein

    July 20, 2020 at 2:21 pm

  24. So happy to see you back. Hope the move and the past month have gone easily and well….

    July 20, 2020 at 2:47 pm

  25. Susan Brown

    Mary, It is wonderful was to have you back! I hope you are comfortably settled into your new home. Am wondering if the osprey and nest in this post was taken on Bostwick Rd. There are so many nesting Osprey families in this area each summer to watch and learn from-no need for a webcam!

    July 20, 2020 at 2:58 pm

    • Hi Susan,
      Yes! It’s the Bostwick Road nest!!! Good for you if you recognized it! If you see any other photographable/Naturally Curious post-worthy subjects, I would love to hear from you! My new email is Thank you so much!

      July 21, 2020 at 9:38 pm

  26. Yay! You’re back! Hope all went well with the move! What a Gorgeous shot to return with! Thank You! 🙂 ❤

    July 20, 2020 at 3:00 pm

  27. Carol Abbey

    There’s nothing to say that loads of your fans haven’t already said. So good to have you back, Mary.

    July 20, 2020 at 3:14 pm

  28. Susan Hardy

    Welcome back Mary! Hope the move went smoothly. May you find many wonderful places to explore around your new home.

    July 20, 2020 at 5:34 pm

  29. Sally Brady

    Hooray! You’re back! Hope you and Gretta are adjusting to the western edge. We easterners miss you.

    July 20, 2020 at 6:20 pm

  30. Diane

    Have missed your posts. Good to have you back.

    July 20, 2020 at 9:06 pm

  31. Caroline werth

    So good to have you back. You were missed

    July 21, 2020 at 5:58 am

  32. vtbee

    Wonderful to hear from you again, Mary! Hope you’re feeling at home in your new environs.
    Sending love from the east!

    July 21, 2020 at 10:06 am

  33. Susan Greenberg

    Welcome back Mary, we missed you.Dean

    July 21, 2020 at 4:16 pm

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