Why do ospreys migrate and how do they find their way back?

Why do ospreys migrate and how do they find their way back?

Mary, our Digital Marketing Officer, shares some web cam footage of the 2021 osprey youngsters learning to handle their prey as they prepare for their first EVER migration alone.

The three young #FoulshawOspreys are now perching and calling on the nest around Foulshaw Moss nature reserve before they head off on their first EVER migration in the coming weeks. 

The youngsters fishing lessons, so to speak, are happening behind the scenes in the estuary & surrounding area with their dad, White YW, achieving the majority, if not all, the groups' successful catches.

The beauty of osprey nest cam is that we can watch the young birds learning how to handle - their sometimes still wriggling - prey.  We get to see how their dad plays a huge part in fine tuning their all-important survival skills, ready for their big journey ahead.

 image of osprey fishing RSPB LeightonMoss -copyright Keith Grafton

Osprey fishing at RSPB Leighton Moss Nature Reserve © Keith Grafton

WhiteYW flying to nest holding a fish as two youngster wait to eat

White YW delivers a fish to his youngsters

Male osprey Blue 464 claims a fish delivery from his dad White YW 

Female osprey Blue 462 claims a fish delivery from her dad White YW

Blue 463 with a fish | Foulshaw Ospreys

Blue 463, dubbed 'Tiny' by many of our osprey cam viewers, with a fish at the nest in July 2021

Their mother, Blue 35, has left on her migration sometime over the past several days as she's not been seen (she leaves earlier than her family, perhaps to have a well earned rest after motherhood.) Her journey could potentially be around 4000 miles and on average over 45 days including rest breaks.

Which begs the question: why do ospreys leave us at the end of summer?  

Well, for one, it's the weather in West Africa and Portugal that entices them to spend winter over there! Can't say I blame them. They benefit from the longer days in those countries compared to our shorter days in Cumbria, because they have more hours and clearer weather conditions to fish for their prey. And plunging into water that is a few degrees warmer than here to grab breakfast must be a more attractive option - surely!

Migration doesn't come without its dangers, and is a treacherous journey especially for juvenile ospreys – approximately 70% of ospreys sadly die in their first year. Young ospreys take longer routes but as they get older they become more experienced, thankfully, and learn how to navigate a fastest route. 

Blue 5N juvenile osprey perched on a tree in The Gambia 2019

Foulshaw osprey Blue 5N was spotted in The Gambia in 2019

It still astonishes me how female Blue 35 and male White YW return to their breeding site yearly, within days of one another, sometimes within hours! How on earth do they do it? And how do young ospreys suddenly pop up, seemingly out of nowhere at the same nest they were born at, several years later? Astounding.

There's a lot of speculation but its thought that they use the earth's magnetic field lines at the very least, to help guide them home the same way a homing pigeon navigates back to its rooftop abode.  So then - ospreys are connected to the earth not only when they land on its trees, not only when they pluck fish from its waters, but when they're in its air!

Their mastery of the invisible forces that humans have puzzled over for decades, is worthy of the highest respect and will keep me wondering, that's for sure.

The Foulshaw Ospreys are not satellite tracked, however our friends at The Rutland Project have done just that. Click here to view maps that show the migration routes that satellite tracked ospreys have endured. It's staggering.

I hope they have a smooth journey without misfortune, and wish them a swift return to us next spring. How do YOU think they find their way back to the same place? Leave a comment below!

Osprey Blue 35 in Spain with a fish in 2017 copyright Alberto Benito Ruiz

Blue 35 in Spain in 2017 © Alberto Benito Ruiz

Thank you to all those who share their observations and to those who help fund osprey cam ~ from myself, Mary, and the rest of Cumbria Wildlife Trust team.