Disappearance of famous osprey leaves chicks under threat

ONE of Scotland's most famous osprey pairs could lose three chicks to starvation after one of the parents disappeared leaving its partner unable to feed their offspring.
The three osprey chicks, like the ones pictured, are now facing the threat of starvation, with one already confirmed dead. Picture: RSPBThe three osprey chicks, like the ones pictured, are now facing the threat of starvation, with one already confirmed dead. Picture: RSPB
The three osprey chicks, like the ones pictured, are now facing the threat of starvation, with one already confirmed dead. Picture: RSPB

The 12-year-old male, named Odin, hasn’t been seen since he left the nesting site at Loch Garten in the Cairngorms on Thursday 18 May. His partner EJ has since struggled to feed their chicks and without a regular supply of fish from both parents the hatchlings will likely starve and it has been confirmed that at least one of them is now dead, while it is feared the other two are now struggling to survive.

Conservationists have refused to intervene by delivering fish to the nest at Loch Garten in the Cairngorms, despite desperate pleas from animal lovers around the world.

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Staff at the nearby visitor centre had set up a nest-cam, but they, along with viewers from across the globe, were left feeling powerless as the female osprey was forced to leave the nest unguarded briefly to remove the carcass of one of the chicks.

Chris Tilbury, visitor experience manager at Loch Garten, said Odin may have been scared off by following the arrival of up to four younger rivals, each trying to take over the territory.

He said: “We’ve had a number of younger males around the nest and our current line of thinking is that he’s been seen off by them. There may have been a fight and he may have been injured.

“EJ’s instinct is to stay on the nest and protect the chicks. Only when it gets to the stage where she is absolutely starving herself will she go and fish for herself.

“But if she leaves the chicks at this stage they will be very vulnerable to predators.

“EJ was seen taking one dead chick away this morning - she was gone for less than a minute.

“We’ve seen some movement on the nest so we know at least one chick is still alive.”

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The pair had been one of the most experienced in the area and have fought off rival suitors since they first began to breed in 2009. RSPB Scotland’s policy is no to intervene despite the threat of death that now hangs over the hatchlings, the youngest of which only hatched on Saturday (20May).

Mr Tilbury said the centre had been inundated with calls from concerned twitchers as well as appeals to the charity online, he said: “It’s devastating to us -- it’s killing all of us as well. It’s horrible to watch.

“We understand that they are wild birds and this is nature but you can’t help but get attached to EJ and Odin. They’ve been at this nest together since 2009.

“There is a massive responsibility and we know there are people all over the world who feel just as strongly as us. It’s a horrible situation to be in.

“Apart from the cameras and some ringing of the chicks for scientific purposes, there is no intervention at all.”

EJ has fledged 25 chicks since taking possession of the nest in 2004, and has paired with Odin since 2009.

Mr Tilbury added: “If it is the case that one of these younger males has seen off Odin, then that is the natural order.

“In nature, when animals get a bit older they get chased off and lose their territory to a younger competitor. That ensures that the strongest genes get passed on and it’s how the species survives and thrives.

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“To us it is brutal and a horrible thing to witness - and it kind of feels wrong - but it is actually the way things are supposed to be. Nature is very brutal sometimes.”

Jess Tomes, visitor operations manager, told followers on social media: “Odin’s disappearance on Thursday has caused all sorts of heart-wrenching issues and we do understand the strength and depth of the reaction. We feel it too.

“We have already stated that we will not intervene and supply fish to the nest. This is a decision we have given considerable thought to and have not taken lightly.”

She also explained why RSPB Scotland did intervene to deliver fish to the nest in 2009 when Odin was unable to provide food due to being tangled in fishing lines.

She added: “In this circumstance, which was a direct result of human carelessness causing Odin to be tangled, we decided to briefly provide fish. When Odin managed to free himself of the fishing line, had regained his strength and was able to resume fishing, we ceased providing fish immediately.

“RSPB has a policy of non-intervention in the breeding efforts of pairs of nesting birds, unless the potential failure of a nest is brought about directly by the actions of people on those individual birds.”

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