Osprey cam back to capture the action at Emma nest
May 5, 2017
Perched on a power pole in Emma, a remote-controlled camera again will provide a bird's eye view of the happenings in an osprey nest this spring, but Pitkin County Open Space and Trails officials hope this return performance works out better than last year.
The camera is capturing the comings and goings of an osprey pair that has consistently returned to a nest in Emma each spring. They built a huge nest years ago on a power pole a short distance from the Roaring Fork River. The camera was installed on a second pole about 20 feet away in December 2015 by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, Holy Cross Energy and several partners.
The osprey produced eggs last spring but they were duds. The raptors are trying again this spring.
"It appears the pair began sitting on an egg or eggs on April 21, compared to April 30 last year," the open space program posted on its website. "We're hoping for hatchlings this year after last year's eggs proved infertile."
Jonathan Lowsky, Pitkin County's former wildlife biologist who is now in private practice at Colorado Wildlife Sciences, said the osprey cam has the potential to be a good educational tool. The camera could capture the hatchlings emerging, being cared for by the adults and fledging.
"It gets people excited about wildlife, rivers and conservation," Lowsky said.
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The camera also could provide some tough lessons about nature. There is the danger of predators climbing the pole and raiding the nest.
"Anything that can climb trees can be a nest predator," Lowsky said. That includes everything from raccoons to bears. Other raptors — eagles and various hawks — also present a threat to eggs and hatchlings, he said.
The Roaring Fork Valley is popular with osprey for the same season it's popular with anglers — there are a lot of fish in the rivers.
"Ospreys just eat fish," Lowsky said, adding they've been known to snag a snake in or along the river. He said there are osprey nests every 2 or so miles along the Roaring Fork River corridor in the midvalley as well as a pair nesting near Ruedi Reservoir. He's also spotted the birds near North Star Nature Preserve east of Aspen.
"I've been seeing osprey consistently at North Star," he said, "but I've never been able to see a nest."
Pairs generally mate for life, Lowsky said, and their natural life span is 15 to 20 years. The female will lay eggs over a few days and they hatch in the order they are laid, so the first hatchling tends to be larger. That can lead to another tough lesson from Mother Nature. The largest hatchling might push its smaller siblings out of the nest to ensure it gets enough food, an act known as fratricide.
Studies have shown that nesting success hinges on the availability of prey, so that bodes well for populations in the Roaring Fork Valley, Lowsky said. But there is an irony involved. When prey is plentiful, both adults will leave the nest to seek it. That leaves the hatchlings susceptible. Efficient hunting gets rewarded, Lowsky said.