SEASIDE — A wildlife camera trained on an osprey nest at Seaside’s Broadway Park has given people an intimate look at the wild birds since 2013, but nature got a little too real last week.
The male osprey, the main provider for the nest’s three growing chicks, disappeared. Some viewers say they last saw him on camera at the end of June with a fishhook embedded in his chest.
Instead of immediately going out to hunt in his place, the female osprey stayed put on the nest. When she finally did go hunting, it was a case of too little, too late. The smallest chick died — likely from starvation — followed soon by a second chick.
Viewers who watched the events unfold over the camera’s popular live feed online were upset. Many demanded that the Necanicum Watershed Council, which maintains the camera, or Wildlife Center of the North Coast, intervene.
“It’s been rough,” said Angie Reseland, of the Necanicum Watershed Council. “It’s nature and nature does really cruel things sometimes and it’s hard because everybody tunes into this.”
The osprey couple — nicknamed “Bob and Betty” by viewers — had had a string of successful years at the nest. Viewers celebrated each new egg, each fledged chick. People were not emotionally prepared for things to not go well this year, Reseland said.
But as they watched the chicks’ health begin to go downhill “basically, there wasn’t anything we could do unless the federal government gave us permission,” she said.
The Wildlife Center of the North Coast is licensed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rescue and rehabilitate wild animals, but must follow federal regulations set by the agency or risk losing its license.
When it comes to an active migratory bird nest like the osprey nest at Broadway Park, from the time the first egg is laid until the last chick is fledged and leaves the nest “nothing can be done to that nest,” said Josh Saranpaa, executive director of the wildlife center.
“We can’t take the babies or the adult or anything from that nest to rehabilitate them because they’re still in the nest,” Saranpaa said. “As far as the Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned, it’s the natural order to let nature run its course.”
If chicks had started questing for food and fallen from the nest — a less than ideal situation — the wildlife center could have swooped in and grabbed them.
But the wildlife center exists primarily to mitigate human-caused issues as much as possible. Though viewers believe the male osprey was injured because of fishing gear, there was no proof that the bird died. Nor is it clear why the female didn’t begin hunting to feed her chicks earlier.
The wildlife center did place four extra salmon at the base of the pole where the nest is located. The mother osprey only took one.
“It can be difficult for folks to witness sad events such as the loss of an adult and the struggles of the chicks,” said Leslie Henry, a wildlife biologist and permit specialist for the Fish and Wildlife Service. “Unfortunately letting nature take its course would be the most appropriate action. If the chicks or the adult ended up on the ground and needed assistance then a permitted rehabilitator could provide that care.”
Things started to look up over the weekend, however. The remaining chick is being fed and another adult osprey, believed to be male, showed up at the nest with the mother. It is not clear if the new adult is the father or a different bird.
Camera footage Monday morning showed both adult birds in the nest with the remaining chick.
Saranpaa, trying to look on the bright side of the whole situation, believes it could be a good educational moment about potential human impacts on wildlife.
If the adult male osprey did die or stayed away from the nest and couldn’t hunt because it was injured by fishing gear, that effect cascaded down to his offspring. In previous years, one osprey chick suffocated in a plastic bag that blew up onto the nest.
Still, as difficult as it is to watch, birds die in nests all the time.
The wildlife center maintains nest boxes for swallows all over its property outside of Astoria. At the end of the nesting season, staff and volunteers clean out the boxes.
“Four out of 10 of them have dead babies from that season,” Saranpaa said.
“This sort of thing happens a lot, and in different nests,” he added. But in Seaside, “there’s an actual camera on it and people are seeing the realities of nature, which are pretty difficult to deal with.”