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Rare raptors expand their presence at Fort Calhoun

June 20, 2022 | Julie Wasson | environment, Fort Calhoun Station, ospreys
osprey chicks
The osprey chicks line up for a breakfast of fish early on the morning of June 20.

The osprey pair at Fort Calhoun Station (FCS) are keeping busy this month taking care of their new offspring.

Their three chicks hatched about three weeks ago. The coloring of the chicks’ feathers provides them with excellent camouflage in the nest, which initially made it difficult for observers to see them on the ospreys’ webcam.

osprey chicks
The chicks relax in the sun with their mother on June 20.

But employees adjusted the webcam, which now provides a more close-up view of the nest. The improved view along with the chicks’ increasing size – they’re growing quickly! – has made the trio easier to see.

They’ve been enjoying freshly caught fish, frequently delivered by their father and fed to them by their mother. And when they aren’t eating or napping, they’re tentatively exploring their nest. They sometimes come a bit too close to the edge and are quickly redirected by a parent.

Osprey chicks typically take flight for the first time when they’re roughly two months old. Usually within a couple weeks after that, they will begin to learn to hunt, and about two months after they begin flying, they’ll begin to hunt on their own.

Osprey chicks at home at Fort Calhoun

Osprey – raptors about the size of bald eagles – have certain legal protections regarding their care, under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Their migratory season runs from September to March.

The raptors previously built a large nest on top of a 360-foot meteorological tower at FCS, which is being decommissioned. While the birds were gone for the winter, OPPD workers took down the tower in December 2020 as part of decommissioning efforts, carefully preserving the nest material.

OPPD partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission on a plan to relocate the nest material on a structure near the site of the previous tower. The plan meets state and federal regulations regarding protected species.

The relocated nest sits on a platform atop a 50-foot power pole, about 300 feet from the original nesting site. The osprey pair spent their first spring and summer in their new nest in 2021, but this is the first year their webcam is set up. Upon their return this spring, the big birds added more material to the nest, and they occasionally make adjustments, rearranging sticks.

osprey chicks
The father osprey delivers a fish for lunch on June 2.

Making a difference

“Osprey have been making inroads in western Nebraska for quite a few years,” said Chris Vrtiska, a Wildlife & Natural Resources Specialist in Environmental Operations at OPPD. “But this is the only known osprey pair in eastern Nebraska.”

The osprey family is popular with observers, Vrtiska said. They have attracted thousands of webcam viewers.

“I was excited that we had the opportunity to do this,” Vrtiska said. “To get to watch them build the nest, and to see him flying in with a fish … that’s just the best thing for me.”

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About Julie Wasson

Julie Wasson is the brand journalism strategist at Omaha Public Power District and the editor of The Wire. She has more than 25 years of print journalism and social media experience, including two stints at the Omaha World-Herald.

View all posts by Julie Wasson >

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