Being a baby bird is no picnic. Your siblings can turn on you. Your parents might not feed you. Owls might try to eat you, not to mention cats. And until you’re ready to fly, gravity — falling out of the nest — is a mortal threat.
So by most measures, a trio of osprey chicks on Maine’s Hog Island had a fantastic spring and summer. The birds grew to be big and strong seven-week-olds, delighting viewers who followed them on a nest cam run by the National Audubon Society and Explore.org. By Monday night, they were nearly full grown and they were close to fledging.
Then tragedy struck. The three birds — named Eric, Little B and Spirit — were alone in the nest when a bald eagle swooped down with fearsome speed. Although one of the osprey parents tried to deter the raptor, the eagle had no trouble grabbing Spirit with its golden talons and flying away with the chick.
The folks at Audubon seemed saddened by this but also pretty amazed. Eagle predation isn’t unusual, but capturing it so clearly on video is.
“It’s an amazing video, really,” Steve Kress, Audubon’s vice president for bird conservation and director of the camp where the nest is located, said in a blog post on the organization’s website. “I didn’t know they’d take chicks that big, but now we know they do.”
It was the second year in a row that the nest’s osprey pair, Rachel and Steve, lost offspring to a bald-eagle attack. Last year, both of their two chicks were captured at three weeks old.
On a brighter note, Kress pointed out that Spirit’s siblings displayed some well-developed defense tactics as the eagle approached. As seen in the video, Eric ducked his head and flattened himself, as if to make himself a smaller, more difficult target. Little B, the brave fellow, decided this was the perfect time to try out his wings: He took off for his first flight ever and escaped the divebombing eagle.
Spirit has not been seen since, so he was probably eagle dinner. But an Audubon intern found Little B on the mainland not far from the nest, with Rachel and Steve hanging out nearby.