Welcome to Superoceras, a blog about science and natural history, slightly biased towards paleontology and zoology, but inclusive of all sciences. Started in October of 2009, my goal is to communicate scientific knowledge (and the occasional piece of nonsense) in an informative and entertaining manner. Feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns, or criticism at superoceras(at)gmail(dot)com, and follow me on Twitter @Superoceras for all that and more in 140 characters or less!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Birds Over the Bay

A nesting pair of osprey,  reunited after separating for the winter and living it up down ol' South America way.
It's no secret that I love the Chesapeake Bay. And while nothing beats getting out on the water, sometimes there are a lot of exciting things happening right above it as well. Back in March while on an Alternative Break trip with the University of Maryland, I was lucky enough to catch a brief encounter that took place over Parrish Creek in Shady Side, Maryland. The resident osprey (Pandion haliaetus) couple had returned from their winter vacation, and made their way to their regular nesting platform. Lucky for me, they weren't the only raptors around that day.

Haliaeetus leucocephalus in flight.
Enter, the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). I've seen both species regularly throughout the area, and it's always a real treat. To see them interacting was really something else, especially considering what happened next.  

Generally speaking, both eagles and osprey can coexist peacefully in the Bay watershed. But when it comes to resources and territory, particularly at the beginning of the breeding season, it would seem these birds don't play around. As soon as the male osprey saw the eagle, he immediately started calling, and took off from his platform like a shot. While bald eagles are known kleptoparasites, I've not heard the same about ospreys. I get the impression that the male osprey just didn't like a bigger bird in his territory, and he was all about taking care of business.

Pandion haliaetus in flight.

The interaction between the two took no longer than it will to get to the bottom of this post, but it was very exciting. Like two planes in a dogfight, the male osprey and the eagle went at it. Well, actually, the osprey went at it. I almost felt bad for the eagle, diving and rolling to avoid the talons of the smaller raptor. But the osprey was tenacious.

"This is Red 5; I'm going in."

At one point, it even attempted to defecate on the eagle.  Keeping your feathers clean and in functional order is essential for a bird, and the osprey seemed to know it, targeting one of the eagles weaknesses.

That's low, even for a "thief".

I'm pretty sure he missed, but that was all the nonsense the eagle needed to experience before it decided it had had enough.  Frankly, that would have been it for me too.  The eagle high-tailed it, and kept his distance for the remainder of the afternoon. 

Until next time...

So, what's the moral of the story?  Don't mess with an osprey nest.  Or, turf wars between raptors are awesome to watch.  Or, always have your camera with you.  All of the above?  I'm not sure, but whatever you take away from it,  I hope you enjoyed seeing it through my eyes as much as I did at the time.  The male osprey casually went back to guarding his nest, and the eagle circled off into the distance, looking for another place to lay its claim.

Home sweet home.

But not before posing for one more super patriotic shot.



  1. Very interesting and cool to see an osprey come out on top for once. Most accounts of interaction between these species are of the eagles practicing kleptoparasitism.

    1. I was glad to see it too. I kinda side with Ben Franklin on the whole bald eagle being a "Bird of bad moral Character" thing. But kleptoparasitism did get them to the highest trophic level in their food web, so from an evolutionary standpoint, they're doing something right.

  2. Very helpful suggestions that help in the optimizing website. thank for sharing the link.