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Nesting ospreys spread steadily up the Yampa Valley

I spy an osprey

Photographer Jeff Morehead captured an image in early spring 2016 of a mating pair of osprey on a nest platform along the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs. By the first week in July, the birds were believed to be feeding at least one hatched chick.
Jeff Morehead/courtesy

On demand, live osprey

The most effective way for Steamboat Springs bird lovers to get a front row seat to observe a nesting pair of ospreys caring for a chick might be to log onto the osprey cam site at the Boulder County Fairgrounds. Because of the earlier spring on the Front Range, the lone chick in that nest is further along. And the live video camera points down into the nest from a high angle.

— If you were driving into downtown Steamboat from the mountain on your way to the Fourth of July parade Monday and spotted a low-flying raptor that resembled a cross between a hawk and a bald eagle, your eyes were not deceiving you.

What you saw was the male half of a pair of nesting ospreys whose recent behavior suggests they are caring for a hatched baby osprey. Their brushy nest is on the river trail not far from the western entrance to Yampa River Botanic Park.

Ospreys’ heads are nearly covered with white feathers (like a bald eagle’s) save for a chocolate brown bar from their eyes to their shoulders. And ospreys are much smaller than bald eagles and lack their white tail feathers.



According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “the osprey is the only hawk on the continent that eats almost exclusively live fish.”

Yampa River Botanic Park co-founder Bob Enever, who consulted with osprey advocate Dr. Allan Reishus, of Craig, in establishing the plywood nesting platform atop an abandoned pole in Steamboat, has recently seen evidence that the osprey parents are feeding at least one chick, although he has yet to glimpse the baby.



Both parents appeared to be tending to “something” deep in the nest, and the female was seen spreading her wings, or “mantling,” which is a nesting behavior known to effectively protect hatchlings from the sun, he said.

“I saw ‘dad’ bring a fish to the nest, strip pieces off it, which he left on the side of the nest,” Enever wrote in an e-mail. “They then changed places. He moved over to sit on the eggs while she ate and stretched her wings many times. After she’d eaten for 10 minutes, she moved back on the nest, and he flew back to security detail.”

The platform was installed in late 2013 and went two years without attracting a mating pair. Reishus, who has worked to establish a string of thriving platforms stretching from west of Craig to Steamboat and soon to Stagecoach State Park, said it’s not unusual for a new platform to be vacant for a couple of years. One platform at a state wildlife area west of Hayden also went two seasons without a nesting pair.

Reishus, an avid outdoorsman, told the Craig Daily Press in November 2013 that he came up with the idea of building the platforms in 2009 after watching ospreys hunting for fish along the Yampa River, which led him to wonder why they weren’t reproducing in the same stretch of the river.

U.S. Forest Service biologist Missy Dressen, with the Hahn’s Peak Ranger District, said Reishus has made a significant contribution to establishing the raptors in the Yampa Valley.

“He helped erect the first two nests in late fall 2009 near Craig on the Bill Mack and Lou Wyman properties, and now, all five nesting structures on the Yampa are occupied,” Dressen said. “We’re off to a banner year.”

Reishus said he’s had significant help along the way from Yampa Valley Electric Association, which got him started with some used poles, and John Cromer, of Cromer Contracting, who has erected a number of the poles at no charge (the Steamboat pole is a pre-existing abandoned aeronautic navigation pole).

Because the osprey hatchlings are born “naked and blind” with no feathers, Dressen said the chicks spend an unusually long time in the nest, which puts more responsibility on their parents. The incubation period can stretch out from 32 to 43 days, and the parents are on the nest 48 to 59 days.

Reishus points out that one cannot see into an osprey nest from immediately below, and he encourages trail users not to gather beneath the nest. However, Reishus said that after watching a pair of ospreys raise chicks atop a parking lot light standard at the factory outlet stores adjacent to the Blue River in Silverthorne, he’s convinced the birds can adapt to human traffic.

Reishus derives the most pleasure from introducing other people to the satisfaction of watching ospreys hunting to feed their chicks.

“I just love watching the ospreys fish, and I enjoy bringing people with me to see it for the first time,” he said. “It’s awesome to see them in a dive and catch a fish. You never forget it. I do think it’s part of the natural environment of the Yampa Valley.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1


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