Nature’s cruelty or nature’s blessings we often speak of. In the final analysis nature is neither cruel nor beneficent. Nature simply exists, in and of whatever myriad combination of cosmic collusions create its beautiful or horrible effects.

A rainbow after a stormy tornado… bright green sprigs and tiny leaves after an abominably icy winter… the devotion of two osprey after a nest failure.

This osprey pair I have watched for several years by a Cornell University bird cam located at University of Montana, Missoula College. They had a clutch of 3 perfect eggs, which within a few days recently would begin to pip and hatch. Unexpectedly just before the new babies’ advent the skies opened to a barrage of stones — a hailstorm. “Iris” was on the nest, “Stanley” immediately joined her. Together the pair fiercely and indomitably faced that storm, shielding their precious brood-to-be as closely as they could.

Sadly, not to be.

One by one, the damaged eggs’ cracks brought on by that impromptu storm caused the eggs’ viability to fail, ending in what I now understand is called “nest failure”. So now I am learning a new set of vocabulary for something I never thought would happen and certainly unwanted… eggs days away from becoming a brood of healthy chicks raised by two of the most attentive and loyal parent osprey, dying.

What do osprey do when they can no longer do what it is they normally do?

For a few days after, Iris sat on the nest as though brooding. Stanley touchingly would bring her a fish, even tearing bits off and delicately feeding her. Her cries (dare I imagine this) sounded plaintive, softly sad… yet she and her faithful mate remain.

An ornithologist at the university there and collaborator with Cornell hosted a skype session on the cam site to help those of us unfamiliar with such a tragedy understand. No, it was unlikely they would try for a new clutch, it is too late in the season, Montana has a quick and harsh onset of winter and a new brood likely would not be raised to fledge. Female osprey, once begun brooding undergo physiological changes that make new egg laying unlikely. The pair possibly will migrate early but may stay close to this nest as to protect it from interloping bird pairs looking for a good place to nest (and it is such a lovely nest– fortified with strong limbs on its outer rim, layered with soft mosses and grasses for the nest bowl). The question of whether birds “divorce” was discussed with some possibility, would one or both seek out another mate this season to raise a brood? So far this does not appear to be.

As I watch the pair now, they are less frequently on the nest. They still come to the nest occasionally, either alone or together.

But this year they will not raise a family.

I hope so for next year.


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