I wonder if osprey romances are anything like human romances. It is a total mystery why some people “click” and others do not. Falling in love is an inexplicable force of nature that has, thus far, defied psychologists and neuroscientists alike. Our falling head over heels seldom has anything to do with practical reasons. While we may make mental check lists of desired mate traits, our hearts pay no attention and completely ignore the mind when faced with the image of the “right” person.
When Harriet returned to her nest in the spring of 2015 without a mate, she might as well as have put balloons and a sign on her lovely nest saying “widow with real estate available.” After waiting impatiently for nearly a month after her arrival, by the beginning of May, the skies around the nest were full of would-be suitors. Several stayed and played house with Harriet only to move on. We D@D viewers were full of angst, probably more than Harriet herself. We agonized over her finding a suitable replacement for Ozzie, the wonder osprey. By the time she made what seemed to be a permanent selection, we all exclaimed “hallelujah!” and named him Hal.
Things did not look promising. Hal clearly did not know how to sit an egg (Harriet laid one and tried to incubate it herself while getting her own fish from the river). The mere presence of the infertile egg did, however, open up doors for learning. And Hal set himself to the task. Under Harriet’s tutelage, Hal slowly learned what being a good partner meant. He hung out with her, caught fish for her, and gradually learned to sit the empty egg (that we viewers named “Eggbert”) until it exploded on a hot July afternoon. By the end of the 2015 season, we all determined to give Hal a chance at proving himself worthy. Here’s a video of him defending his new nest in 2015.
Harriet probably had no such doubt. She and Hal hooked up again in April of 2016 and immediately set about fluffing the nest and getting down to business. This too seemed new to Hal, as his x-rated love-making attempts brought laughter from his audience. The poor fellow just couldn’t get a break from all of us spoiled by Ozzie’s competence. We behaved like a bunch of old grandparents keeping score on our granddaughter’s new beau – he would NEVER be good enough.
However, as 2016 wore on and as Harriet and Hal laid two eggs and did a splendid job of raising and fledging them both—named Honor and Glory—we all started to soften toward Hal. Yes, he seemed young, but he was so earnest, so willing, so protective, so dedicated, and, dare we say, proud. He really grew on everyone as his confidence increased right along with his parenting skills. Yup, Harriet knew best, Hal was terrific.
This year, his performance has been stellar. Arriving a little late after a Hal-pretender tried to usurp his position, Hal immediately set to business with Harriet. Nest building and love making went very smoothly this year, and by the end of April, they had three eggs laid. Those three eggs hatched on June 1, 2, and 4. Hal has been doing an excellent job of keeping the entire family fed and safe from the occasional intruders.
Just this past week, Hal demonstrated what a resourceful fisherman he is. We had a major storm roll through the Bitterroot Valley, dumping inches of rain to an already swollen and churning river, making the fishing very difficult, and dropping the temperatures dangerously low. The chicks are at a critical time, too young to regulate their own temperatures and growing rapidly. Fish is the only thing that will allow them all to survive. In spite of the roiling waters of the Bitterroot River, Hal has been able to deliver fish after fish and keep them all so full that we have yet to see any sibling rivalry. All three chicks end up with full crops multiple times each day.
Hal still seems a little ill at ease when left alone with the chicks. He has fed Harriet an occasional bite, but generally he takes no role in the feeding process. Perhaps that, too, is something he will learn. Watching Hal these past three years has given all of us a greater understanding of the amount of learning that goes on in osprey world. During both 2015 and 2016, you could practically see the lightbulbs go on in Hal’s head as he worked his way through all of his new tasks. Harriet may very well be much older than Hal. Luckily, she has lots of experience raising chicks and could teach him the ins and outs of becoming a parent so they could be almost immediately successful.
Hallelujah Hal has earned his stripes with the Days At Dunrovin community members, and he has clearly earned Harriet’s devotion and support. It will be both fun and entertaining to continue to watch him as he matures. Our hope is that Harriet and Hal have many more years of being the stars at the Dunrovin ospreys’ nest.