This Week’s Creature Feature ... Farewell Olive Osprey
As the osprey head south this year, we say goodbye forever to one special bird: Olive Osprey.
Like many of her species, she was shot. Not over Cuba or the Dominican Republic, where fish farmers consider osprey birds of prey. Olive was shot as she sat on her eggs in her nest in Southern Anne Arundel County, where she had been welcomed and had gained celebrity.
Her killers were neighborhood boys.
Olive was the heroine of my book, Oscar and Olive Osprey: A Family Takes Flight. Since 2006, I have watched their Chesapeake family life on the platform my neighbors helped me erect on the end of my pier in Holland Point. The second season, 2007, Oscar and Olive had chicks. That year I named each one. By the third season, 2008, I knew I would write a book about the osprey family that reminded me so much of human families.
Oscar and Olive returned this year, their sixth season, and settled into domestic life, repairing their nest, mating, fishing and tending their eggs.
Until May, when I saw two boys on my pier, armed with BB guns.
When I reached them at the end of the 110-foot pier, I saw that they were looking down at an osprey floating dead in the water.
We just shot the bird, they reported.
One of the boys was 10 years old; the other 14. The 10-year-old’s father had given the boys the two loaded BB guns and told them they could do target practice in the woods across the street. We were out shooting birds and squirrels, they told me.
I’d have to call the police, I told them, because they’d committed a grave offense. The osprey is a federally protected bird. Disturbing a nest, let alone killing a bird, carries a $15,000 penalty.
While we waited for the Anne Arundel and Natural Resources Police, I tried to explain to the boys why osprey matter. The 10-year-old knew about Oscar and Olive; he’d been a student in one of the hundreds of elementary school classes I’d visited to talk about osprey and this pair I knew so well.
The shooting had been no accident, a juvenile hearing officer determined in June. The boys had walked two or three blocks from the woods onto my property and out to the end of the pier.
I imagined there would be consequences for the boys.
Last week, the charges — trespassing, animal abuse and cruelty carrying a concealed weapon and shooting an endangered species — were dropped in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.
Osprey Life Goes On
After Olive’s death, I followed the comings and goings of Oscar, the male survivor of the couple, who is recognizable by a missing feather on his right wing. He sat alone on the nest, dutifully incubating the eggs. Male osprey will do this until getting too stressed. After a few days, Oscar gave up, so this year’s eggs did not survive.
Before the season was over, Oscar welcomed a new female to his nest. It was too late in the year for her to lay eggs, but both birds have been busy maintaining the nest and asserting their claim to it.
As I wrote at the end of the final chapter of Oscar and Olive’s story:
“The nest is where they will start a new season and lay new eggs. It will no longer be empty next spring, or the next, or the next. Oscar and [now I change my words, adding his new mate] will come home, and it will once again be full of new life.”