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Montana Wild welcomes first osprey of the season

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Posted at 6:41 PM, Apr 15, 2024

HELENA — Right on schedule! The first osprey landed at Montana Wild in Helena the same week they started to arrive last year.

“This is what we would call their breeding ground, so where they’re breeding chicks and nesting,” said Corie Bowditch, a program specialist for Montana Wild.

She says that ospreys look for places to nest with limited tree coverage and near water, making places like cell towers near Montana Wild and Spring Meadow Lake ideal.

Cell tower in Montana Wild

Bowditch said, “Last year, they nested in this huge cellphone tower just behind Montana Wild and successfully raised three chicks up in that tower.”

But Bowditch and others will be closely watching what happens this year after geese took over nests previously used by osprey.

So far, Montana Wild has identified one osprey that returned from Central America or the southern United States.

Even though ospreys mate for life, they typically do not migrate in pacts.

Goose in osprey nest

“It’s just baffling, and we are still trying to understand how they know where to go. Is it that magnetic field, the sun, the stars, or a combination of everything,” said Bowditch.

Bowditch said that osprey's diets consist of 99% fish, making them expert fishermen.

She said studies have shown that one-fourth of their dives are successful.

“[They have] perfect fishhooks, and they’re one of the only raptors that can rotate their toes in this orientation, two in the front and two in the back, which gives them excellent grip on that fish,” Bowditch said.

Last year, Montana Wild noticed that one of the ospreys had a band on its leg, allowing them to track it.

Bowditch said, “That gives us a goldmine of data. We can know that the osprey is nearly ten years old, where it was born - in Drummond, that it has survived all this time, and that it’s choosing to breed here in Helena.”

Osprey wings

According to Bowditch, ospreys will typically migrate south in mid to late August.