Bird-Watching Column: Ospreys in Bryce Canyon

Mathew Tekulsky
The Birdman of Bel Air
for National Geographic News
July 20, 2004

One spring when I was visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, I got a tip on an Osprey nest from the ranger at the park's visitor center. I decided to check it out.

The ranger told me that I'd find the nest about halfway up the road to Rainbow Point. I kept looking into the tops of the trees for the nest, but I found nothing.

I turned around and drove back down the road toward the visitor center. But then, glancing to the left side of the road, I saw it: The unmistakable bulk of sticks at the top of dead tree could only mean one thing—osprey nest!

I must have misheard the ranger, I thought. But I thanked my lucky stars that I looked up from the wheel at just the right moment to spot the nest. Grabbing my camera and tripod from the car, I approached the nest. It was situated about 60 feet (18 meters) above the meadow in which I was standing.

Before I got too close, the ospreys (yes, there were two of them, a male and a female in the process of building their nest) began screeching at me. They shrieked with that high-pitched call that only a bird of prey can emit.

In this case, I had two birds of prey on my hands, and they were angry at me!

Now, in between shrieking at me, the ospreys took trips down the Paunsaugunt Plateau to the west. No doubt they were visiting the Tropic Reservoir and the East Fork Sevier River for fish, picking up sticks for their nest on the way back.

The birds sat or stood on their nest patiently, usually one at a time. But occasionally, they both shared the nest for a while.

One thing I noticed about the ospreys that really made an impression on me was the sheer size of their wingspan—over five feet (1.5 meters)! These were big birds, indeed. No wonder they were more irritated than afraid of me.

In flight, the raptors' wings seemed to go on forever. You could easily hear them flapping from 100 feet (30 meters) away. At one point, one of the ospreys took up a perch at the top of another dead tree about 100 feet (30 meters) away from me. It stared at me from that great distance, then all of a sudden, it took off from the snag and flew back to the nest.

It was very clear to me that I intruded on the ospreys' territory. But after about an hour, the birds actually got a little bit used to me. They continued their comings and goings, but without all the screeching directed at me. The pair seemed to be communicating entirely among themselves by then.

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