Ospreys in the Red Corner

Welcome to Commodore Park, Seattle … home of the 18th weir and today’s main event.

In the red corner, weighing 4.4 pounds, with a wingspan of 70 inches, coming straight off a 1200-mile migration …

Pandion haliaetus.

Osprey Pair on Ballard Locks Nesting Platform Seattle


And in the blue corner, the opponent, weighing 1.2 pounds … undefeated with 172 professional, aerial wins …

Corvus brachyrhynchos.

American Crow on utility cable in Seattle


I photographed this series in the days after our male Osprey landed at Commodore Park . He took his sweet Osprey time as his girl waited. She arranged twigs in the nest and brought home a piece of PVC tubing for the decor.

Osprey Arranging Twigs in Nest


She caught an occasional starry flounder in Elliott Bay. She sunned herself on the railroad bridge. She watched Bald Eagles drift upward without flapping, catching thermals overhead — and she fended off neighboring Ospreys who showed too much interest in her platform.

Pandion haliaetus on Ballard Train Bridge Seattle


I wondered if she knew. Could she hear or understand that somehow he was on his way? The two migrate separately, after all, and they still find themselves at the same spot, on nearly the same day, year after year. Is it really inconceivable that she might know his whereabouts, even without a GPS tracker?

He did arrive, finally. I got an email from an Osprey watcher: “He’s home,” she wrote. And, just minutes after that, the resident crow sentries homed in on the new interloper as well.

The crows are incessant in their mobbing when the Ospreys first arrive. It’s a behavior that tapers off over the weeks as the Ospreys settle into nesting. The crows then direct their mobbing toward Bald Eagles and Cooper’s Hawks. This strategy has the side benefit of protecting the local Great Blue Heron rookery at the same time.

John Marzluff and Tony Angell describe crow mobbing behavior this way:

“Hawks, owls, eagles, raccoons, cats, foxes, coyotes and even people are often the subjects of mob aggression by hysterical crows. To crows these are all predators, having at one time or another been caught by a crow in the act of preying on nestlings or older family members. While calling loudly, members of the mob orchestrate strafing runs at the potential predator, often striking it. Blows so delivered can cut people, knock small predators from their perches, and may even kill some predators. . . .

The ability of mobs to move predators out of high-use areas is especially important for securing nightly roost sites. This is why owls detected during the day are vigorously mobbed — they are often forced to move so that when they begin hunting after the sun sets, they are likely to be far from vulnerable, sleeping crows.” ~ In the Company of Crows and Ravens (p. 176-177)

On the platform, the Ospreys note the crow approach. My camera settings rendered the crow a figment against overcast skies, and figments seem better served by black and white.

Crow Osprey 3


Crow Osprey 4



After many close passes, both Ospreys decide to dip down from the nest.

Crow Osprey Leaving Nest

They ditch the crows and circle the area, calling out to each other before returning to their digs. But, a crow is right on top of that plan as well …


Crow Osprey 5

… with no particular concern for intimate, Osprey relationship bonding.

Crow Osprey Mating

One Osprey takes off to go fishing. The crow stays behind to visit.

Crow and Osprey at Commodore Park Seattle


Crow Osprey Mobbing

The Osprey returns later with a piece fish in the left talon. The crow does a flyby to check out that development, too.  (lower left).

Commodore Park Pandion haliaetus

The Osprey flies the fish meal to the top of the train bridge, where the crow summons reinforcements — for possible fish scraps (Osprey circled in red).

Crow Osprey Train Bridge 2

The train bridge is a fixture in Osprey life at Commodore Park, where one or both birds often perch while eating their fish.

Crow Osprey Bridge 3


Osprey eating fish on Ballard Train Bridge

The crows do eventually go back to their business of foraging in the mussel beds along the adjacent Ballard Locks spillway.

Crows foraging for mussels at Ballard Locks

And the Ospreys get some shut eye, shaking off the miles from Seattle to California and beyond … wherever our two friends journey in the winter before reconnecting with each other and with their Seattle corvid entourage.

Osprey sleeping at Ballard Locks nesting platform







    • says

      Thanks, Larry. I know a lot of people would hesitate about taking those liberties with the Osprey psyche. I dislike the way the word “anthropomorphism” is used to diminish the idea that we can share profound qualities across species, even if we can’t know for sure what that another animal thinks or feels. Of course, I’m playing with creative narrative in this post. That’s why I’m glad I’m not bound by peer reviews of my assessments. :)

      One interesting thing … this male may, in fact, be the second mate she took last year. Several of us regular Osprey observers noticed that her mate of several years seemed to disappear mid nesting season. We were heartbroken. When “he” finally returned, it seemed to us that it was a different male in both markings and behaviors. The new male didn’t give the female her fish first. He sat way out of reach and ate most of it before bringing it to her. He’s doing that this year as well. The first male would sit nearby and share more readily. With this male, she waits a long time before getting her food. I now wonder if he will make her wait for his return every year. See? I can’t avoid psychoanalyzing the Osprey motivation. There’s no hope for me.

      • says

        I share your sentiments about the superior-sounding use of the word “anthropomorphism,” Ingrid.

        I also share your joy as you capture not just sterile snapshots of creatures poised at a moment in time, but vital beings who are thinking intelligent, imaginative thoughts and living active, purposeful lives.

        And I ditto your love of a good mystery — a puzzle to piece together — in which the main characters are birds. (No, not the Alfred Hitchcock variety of birds! Shudder!)

        The thing is, I always want stories to end happily for everyone, including the fishes. Which makes me glad that I believe, deep down, that the actual life of us all is immortal (not composed of time-and-space-limited matter with birth-and-death bookends), harmonious (not subject to strife), and fed by divine Spirit’s supply of heavenly qualities (not prone to mental or physical predation).

        Pollyanna? No.

        Follower of Isaiah, who prophesied the peaceable kingdom? Yes.

        So, come on, crows and cats, ospreys and owls, let’s all come out of our separate corners, stop the silly sparring, and join the lions and lambs — one family united by bands of love for our common creator and our fellow beings.

    • says

      Thank you, Ron. I can’t help myself (with the ‘psychoanalysis’) although I realize it’s strictly literary interpretation. I do, however, wish I could know exactly how they think and feel.

  1. says

    Stunning to see these magnificent beings dramatically presented in stark black and white. The subject matter – goes beyond words… But the skillful photography and final presentation – Wow! Just wow!


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