Bella & Beau 2018: Osprey Migration

(Osprey nest location:  Cambridge, Maryland, USA)

August 21, 2018

As is usual with our Chesapeake Bay Osprey, the adult female Osprey is the first to migrate, leaving during the month of August, with nonbreeders leaving sooner and breeders leaving later in the month.  Bella’s final days with Cambridge are numbered.  My goal is to keep an eye out for Bella when I can to know whether she is still around.

I actually saw Bella, Beau and both OspreyTeens all at the same time shortly after 7 pm today.  She is still busy chasing intruders away from the nest platform….

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Bella pursuing a Turkey Vulture flying around the nest platform (and out of my shot).


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Bella chasing a Turkey Vulture away from the nest platform.


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Bella has her talons extended as she neared the Turkey Vulture and they disappeared behind the trees.  I hope the Turkey Vulture is okay!


….and delivering fish to begging OspreyTeens on the nest platform.  In this next series, the other OspreyTeen already has a fish when Bella drops in.

Bella drops in with a fish and tries to give it to the begging OspreyTeen.


Surprisingly, Bella decides to not release the fish and instead feed the OspreyTeen.


The male Osprey will stay on for up to another month after the female leaves to continue to assist the chicks with mastering their fishing skills and feed them as needed. Once the fishing skills are acquired, each Osprey chick will get an instinct to leave and will go.  Once the last chick has left, the adult male’s final duties are done, and he will head south as well.

There is still a lot of begging from the OspreyTeens while perched on the nest platform, you should hear the commotion at sunrise now.  I no longer need to set our alarm clock.  Beau also has been keeping up with fish deliveries.  To date, I have not seen a wet OspreyTeen arriving or eating a fish, a sign it might have caught it itself.


Beau delivering a fish to an aggressive OspreyTeen.


An OspreyTeen spending over 20 minutes watching the water below, seeing small fish perhaps?


The OspreyTeens are still actively flying around, chasing each other for fun, and chasing the gulls.  They still leave other intruders to Bella & Beau.

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Terrible photo of OspreyTeen after a gull today.


Just days ago, one of the OspreyTeens left the nest platform and swooped down to the water (to my horror!) at precious little Cassie Canvasback.  I screamed, “NOOOOO, that’s Cassie!”

Cassie dove under the water and popped back up while the OspreyTeen turned and flew off (maybe it heard my scream, lol).  Cassie looked shaken and quickly swam to the safety of the docks.  My photos show how shaken I was with the poor shots, lol.

First time I got mad at one of the Osprey.  😉


So where do Osprey migrate?

U.S. Northeast/Chesapeake Bay Osprey – migrate to South America, some to the Caribbean
U.S. Midwestern Osprey – migrate to Mexico, Central & South America, some to the Caribbean
U.S. Northwest Osprey – migrate to south Texas, Mexico and Central America
Australasian Ospreys – most do not tend to migrate
Europe and northern Asia – migrate to Africa, India and southeast Asia

In the U.S., there are scattered numbers of Osprey along the Pacific coast of Washington, Oregon, and California, as well as Arizona that do not migrate, nor do the Osprey along the entire Gulf Coast, Florida, and the Atlantic coast of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Migrating adult Osprey will usually return to their previous wintering grounds.  They will typically fly alone, although there have been flock sightings of up to 92 Osprey in the Cuba and Haiti regions.  Osprey will fly day and night, instinctively following their repeated migration routes, stopping to fish, eat, and rest as needed and if they can.

Unlike many raptors, Ospreys do not use updrafts and thermals to fly.  It is thought that Osprey use a variety of techniques for navigation, including the stars and the changes in the earth’s magnetic field.  Their average distance per day ranges from approximately 60 to 235 miles/day (95 to 380 km/day).

As with Bella & Beau and the OspreyTeens, the U.S. Northeast Osprey will inevitably be making 12+ hour-long flights at night over water to South America, which is possible because of the Osprey’s wing morphology and wing-loading characteristics.

Osprey chicks’ first migration is tricky.  They sometimes wander in wrong directions, hang out in areas too long, and can even get lost.  These mistakes can be detrimental.  The mission is to get to the Caribbean or South America and hang out there for another year and a half, then returning usually back to their birth area, ready to find a mate and begin their adult breeding lives.

Unfortunately, the survival rate of an Osprey chick’s first migration is less than 50%.  If they do survive and reach 3+ years old, they have an increased 80-90% survival rate.  Alan Poole summarized this as:  “On average, out of 100 young fledged in any year, 37 will be alive 4 years after fledging, 17 eight years after, and only 6–8 twelve years after.”

On a happier note, the following is a successful, amazing recount of a 2008’s Osprey chick’s first migration journey, learned through data obtained from a small, lightweight backpack containing a satellite tracking device (GPS) that was attached to her back.

“On a clear morning in early September 2008, a three-month-old female Osprey named Penelope pushed off from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and flew, alone, 2,700 miles to French Guiana in 13 days.  She touched down in coastal Maryland and North Carolina for three days, lazed along the Bahamas for four, then blew through the Dominican Republic in 29 hours. At dusk she launched out over the Caribbean, flying all night and the next day to a tiny island off the coast of Venezuela. A week later she was exploring rainforest rivers in French Guiana, her home for the next 18 months.”  Written by Alan Poole, Osprey expert

Here’s a map showing Penelope’s first migration journey from Massachusetts to French Guiana, South America, in 13 days.  Amazing!


Copyright © Cornell University, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds


Today, there are many groups around the world involved with tracking Osprey, using banding and satellite backpacks, gaining data to help focus on conservation efforts and migrational differences within their species.

Now back to a few more images of Bella, Beau, and those wonderful OspreyTeens while they are all still here with us to enjoy!


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Beau in flight


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Bella in flight


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Bella and her OspreyTeens


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Beautiful OspreyTeen wings


OspreyTeen begging because it doesn’t have a fish.  A few minutes later another fish was delivered.


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OspreyTeen home alone


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“Sorry, but you look delicious!”


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OspreyTeen’s defense stance, protecting it’s nest platform.


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OspreyTeen getting a louder, as an intruder flies overhead.


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OspreyTeen staying with eye-contact on the intruder, and louder still.  The intruder flew off.


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“Who’s leaning, us or you?”


For an Osprey to survive their migration’s physical and mental challenges of extreme weather, crossing large bodies of water, finding food, avoiding predators, AND not get shot by fish-farmers seems like a small miracle.

Maybe when you see an Osprey return next Spring (usually March), a smile will cross your face, knowing the miracle of migration you are witnessing.  🙂

Fingers crossed Bella is here with us a few more weeks!


(For all the posts on Bella & Beau’s 2018 season, you can click HERE.)



49 thoughts on “Bella & Beau 2018: Osprey Migration

  1. Great post Donna! These birds are very disciplined and highly skilled. I wish them well in their future migration! Thanks my friend. 🙂

  2. I think we have some osprey who hang around year round. Of course, I don’t have a front row seat like yours! They seem to like hanging out near the estuary. Your captures are simply amazing. I think your followers will be nearly as sad as you to see them gone. This has been such an exciting series!

    • Thank you, Gunta! I thought you’d have a few year-round residents. 🙂 When I started the series, I had no idea how’d it go, that nest had surely worried me to no end. I really didn’t want to be abruptly ending the series on a sad situation. But, wow, they were successful anyways! It’s going to be sad when they leave, and oh so very quiet.

      • We need to face up to the good and the ‘bad’. Even the attack on Cassie… good thing she can still dive. For me the most amazing part was how this young pair was so successful, despite the inexperienced nest building. Also amazing how you managed to identify each individual. I still can’t in spite of your images. I ought to study them a bit better, but you know… time!

    • No problem, it’s been a while since I touched on the differences! As with Osprey, the female is noticeably larger than the male, side by side. Another way to tell is the female has brown speckling around her neck on her chest, called her ‘necklace’. It has been recorded, though, that a male on occasion has sported a ‘necklace’ as well. Here, Bella is much larger than Beau and has her ‘necklace’ where Beau’s chest is primarily white. 🙂 The chicks can possibly be distinguished this way too, but they are still developing and feathers will change to the adult feathers from their beige-tipped feathers in the upcoming year. I’m guessing but think we do have both a female and male chick, especially because of their size difference. Thank you for asking!!

  3. It has been great watching your Osprey…soon all be over for another year. Here in the UK the Osprey are still at risk, though numbers are gradually increasing. Nesting sites closely watched and protected. There migration south over Europe and down to Africa is still full of peril for them despite legislation and education on persecution, add in weather hazards and its tough.

    • Thank you, David! It certainly is a drastic difference of Osprey habitat between your country and ours. Here on the Chesapeake Bay, they are everywhere, it has been truly an amazing comeback for the U.S. I hope the UK Osprey do continue to thrive and build in population.

  4. A wonderful showcase of Osprey Donna, and found your information most informative. Yes, our Osprey stay all year round and don’t normally migrate like yours as our temperatures do not have as great a diurnal range in winter,I especially loved you last pic of the two teens leaning together it is so cute. Your research and scientific pictorial logging has been exemplary, you are to be complemented for your diligent timeline recording of this little Osprey family.

    • Thank you very much, Ashley, the series has certainly been a journey to date! I’m so glad we had success with such a poor nest, it was a worry to me. They really proved their resilience! On that last cute shot, one of my favorites already! 🙂

  5. Donna, your pictures are incredible, as always, and your amazing storytelling (with facts, of course) is the icing on the cake. You have obviously put a lot of time and study into these wonderful series that you have shared all summer. Thank you! And for the umpteenth time I am suggesting a book!!! 🙂

    • Thank you, Susan, and you’re welcome! Getting to know the Osprey 9-10 years ago around Kent Island put them at the top as my favorite bird. We are so lucky around the Chesapeake Bay with the large Osprey population. I hope your ‘Osprey’ are mastering all their skills as well, getting ready to leave us. I’m sure you know what I mean when I say it gets really quiet after the Osprey leave. Sigh…… 🙂

    • I love that last shot, Jane, really made me giggle, they have such comical looks at times. Those bright red/orange eyes can really be intense! Re Cassie, me too. I wonder if the OspreyTeens have bothered her before. I bet she’ll be glad when the OspreyTeens migrate!

  6. Do they return to their original nesting sites?Are we likely to see Bella and Beau next year? I’m going to miss hearing about them. It would be great if trackers couldbe put on mum, dad and teens.

    • Thank you for your questions, Chris! Yes, adult Osprey return to their original nesting sites, so Bella & Beau will return in March, meeting back at this nest platform to rekindle their bond. Osprey mate for life. Usually the male is back first and will ‘secure’ their nest site from other Osprey. When first year chicks return a year and a half later, the GPS tracking has shown they return back to the area they were born, sometimes within miles of their birth nest. No research shows, though, any relationship reconnection between parents and chicks when they return if they should cross paths in flight. 😦

      • I’ll be looking forward to hearing about their return, and hope their next nest shows a little more experience. I noticed one of the comments on your posts suggested you write a book – I agree. Reading how Bella and Beau’s story unfolded was exciting and full of suspense. I couldn’t wait for the next chapter.

  7. Great images and great information! It’s always amazed me that the young of some species of birds migrate on their own and not with a flock of adults to guide them. One has to wonder how the young know where to go, especially osprey which cross hundreds of miles of open water with no place to rest if they get tired.

    • Thank you, Jerry! It is a mystery for sure to cross all those miles of water alone and not sure where you’re going and why. I follow one U.S. osprey GPS tracking site,, there was one instance years ago that was confirmed of a young Osprey enroute south over the Atlantic Ocean had found and landed on a ship to rest for a few days. It was first thought the Osprey had demised because the GPS showed it stopped moving, then to find out it was using the ship as a perch for those resting & fishing days while the ship cruised along. Then it took off again and actually made it to South America. 🙂

  8. If good thoughts increase the chance of survival, Bella, Beau, and their gorgeous offspring should do just fine. Let’s hope for the best.
    Thank you for the beautiful update, Donna.

      • I know…I have spotted Papa Stanley at his favorite perches but have not seen Sandy guarding the nest once or twice a day…and have actually not been able to confirm that she’s around. I hope that’s just me not being around enough in the last few weeks.

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