By E.B. FURGURSON III
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Now this is a reality show.
Tom, a hardworking dad, constantly nagged by his wife, Audrey. Violent sibling rivalry as the kids, Chester, Essie and Ozzie, fight for mom’s attention. Parents trying to keep the house in order and keep the family fed. And a growing cadre of loyal viewers who can’t seem to turn it off.
It’s OspreyCam, brought to you by the folks at Chesapeake Conservancy.
The kids are three osprey chicks. The first one, Chester, hatched May 25, Essie emerged two days later. The runt, Ozzie, came a week after his oldest sibling.
Even before the first hatchling appeared, some folks were glued to OspreyCam, a camera feed from a nest platform on the Eastern Shore.
The location is a secret.
Soon chatter appeared on the Chesapeake Conservancy Facebook page. People were glued to their computers keeping tabs on osprey drama.
There are more than 100,000 followers, according to the Chesapeake Conservancy’s numbers. There are viewers from all 50 states and 65 different countries.
A week or so after three chicks hatched, (there was a fourth egg that never hatched) folks were addicted. Much of the focus was on the youngest of the brood, noticeably weaker and smaller than the other two.
When dad would return with a rockfish or menhaden, the older chicks would sidle up next to Audrey as she began tearing the flesh of the fish to feed her young. But the runt usually found himself behind the bigger ones, shut out of the feeding.
Often one of the older chicks would turn and peck at the smaller one, or knock it down out of the way.
People would watch this online and record their heartfelt anxiety: “Why doesn’t she feed him?” “He is not going to make it. “
Occasionally, Audrey would stretch her neck to get a morsel to the weaker offspring. Sometimes it worked. More often the older chicks would just wrench the shred of fish from her.
Scientists warned those addicted to the online drama that this was nature at its most basic — the will to survive — and that ospreys will do what ospreys will do.
“We were amazed it caught so many people’s interest,” said Joel Dunn, executive director of the conservancy. “It is easy to put human values on what they are witnessing. But you must remember it is ospreys being ospreys. “
Many find it also amazing how much the trio has grown, from fuzzy little hatchlings to near-adult size in a few weeks.
Ed Rothe of Gambrills, now retired, formerly an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Beltsville, was an early fan.
“I get up early, grab a cup of coffee and take a look at them,” he said. “Once you get into it, you’re hooked.”
It also can be sad viewing, particularly regarding the runt.
“I really did not think he would make it. You would look and they were beating the hell out of him. But he is a fighter. It’s amazing,” Rothe added.
The conservancy held an online name-the-chicks contest which resulted in the names Chester, Essie and, for the youngest, Ozzie. Even so, some of the brood’s fans call the little guy Spunky Oz.
Comments on the site give the human point of view on life in the nest. When the ospreys bring new twigs, or make adjustments by yanking pieces of wood with their beaks and talons, folks online say, “More redecorating going on.”
O: “Tom keeps bringing more branches into the nest. I swear he is trying to build a fortress to keep his family safe. I admire his dedication to Audrey and the babies. They are such good parents.”
The comments also reflect a growing interest in natural science. “Ozzie is definitely losing his baby down and showing more juvenile plumage like his siblings.” Or, “I see Chester’s primary feathers coming in.”
Dunn said the link not only tells the story of this family of ospreys but the history of the species and its recovery. “The osprey was brought to the brink, they were nearly eliminated by DDT.”
Like the bald eagle, the species is climbing back.
“There are now 3,500 pairs in the Chesapeake,” Dunn said. “It’s the densest population in the world. If we catch a problem in time and address it, the species can recover.”
And OspreyCam is helping to tell the story, he said.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)