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Empty Nests

So long, osprey, and thanks for all the lessons

On utility poles, street and sports field lights and channel markers, the nests are empty. Momma, poppa and babies — all but the stragglers have abandoned the Chesapeake.
    Our birds are now flying south in migrations one, two, three or even four thousand miles long. Some travel no farther than Cuba; others go all the way to Argentina, though most nest along the curving northern rim of South America. That’s twice a year, spring and fall, along very much the same path once a bird establishes its route.
    Speed is as awe-inspiring as distance. One northern Chesapeake osprey migrated 2,576 miles last spring in 10 days, flying nonstop from South America to the Florida Keys in only 57 hours. Another Chesapeake bird migrated 4,238 miles last spring, covering the distance in 22 days while stopping over for five.
    We know this and more because of scientist Rob Bierregaard’s 45 years of climbing into nests to fit osprey with transmitters. Track the migration of osprey, including seven Chesapeake and mid-Atlantic birds, at ospreytrax.com.
    Miraculous as those feats of flying are, they’re achieved by birds that have lived to learn the drill. More wonderful still, especially to all of us amateur osprey-watchers, are the flights of babies. Hatched in early June and fed abundantly by good-providing parents, chicks grow in leaps and bounds. Fuzzy heads popping over the edge of stick-built nests shortly feather out. By August, three or four apparently full-grown osprey stand proudly on their nests’ rims.
    By migration time, the once-so-watchful parents have flown ahead, leaving their fledglings to fish and fly on their own. As migrators, osprey are individualists, each creating its own route and following its own time table. So the babies have no parents or flock to follow. How do they make their way? However they begin, they get better with experience, if they live to gain it.
    Ospreys’ are not the only empty nests of this season. Five- and six-year-old humans have fledged to kindergarten, 10- and 11-year-olds to middle school, 14- and 15-year-olds to high school, 18-year-olds to college. No matter the transition, we onlooking parents and grandparents, guardians and well-wishers cannot believe they’ve grown up so fast. How will they survive this huge step, we wonder, though compared to the flight of the osprey each human flight beyond the nest is pretty small.
    Should we choose to learn from a bird about this nesting and nest-emptying business, we could pick far worse teachers than the osprey.
    Lesson one: Put everything you’ve got into the job at hand.
    Lesson two: Teach by example.
    Lesson three: Believe in freedom.
    Lesson four: When the time comes, let the young go.
    Lesson five: Fly your own way for well-deserved R&R, so you’ll have plenty of energy for the next cycle — whatever that may be.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com