strange behaviors

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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Osprey Peyton Place

Posted by Richard Conniff on April 27, 2007

I love this report from the BBC about a male osprey’s decisive response on realizing that his mate has been off on a romantic fling–or what biologists like to call an “extra-pair copulation.” It’s curious how the staff at this reserve give the male a name, Henry, but cloak the guilty couple with mere abbreviations. It’s also strange that they are “gutted” when Henry kicks his rival’s offspring out of the nest, or that they should think this was a case of their “worse fears” being realized.

On the contrary, Henry is clearly nobody’s fool. And making sure that he’s the one doing the reproducing is probably not such a bad thing for the species. But maybe he will take the hint and learn to get home a little earlier from vacation:

An osprey has returned to a nesting site to find his long-time mate incubating the eggs of his arch-rival.

Staff at the Loch Garten Osprey Centre in the Highlands had hoped Henry would make his 3,000-mile migration from west Africa to Scotland more quickly.

But by the time he arrived his mate EJ had two eggs to another male called VS.

Henry kicked the eggs out of the nest and observers had hoped that he would believe two more that she laid were his — but he has now ejected them too.

VS has caused trouble at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserve in previous seasons by attempting to mate with EJ before her usual mate arrives.

RSPB Scotland said trouble was brewing for this year’s breeding season when EJ returned to the loch with VS.

Richard Thaxton, site manager, said ospreys had spent summers at the reserve since 1958.

He said: “EJ has a good breeding record, but VS is known to be something of a rogue having disrupted breeding at the Loch Garten nest site in recent years, two-timing EJ with a female of his own at a nest of his own elsewhere in Strathspey.

“Secretly, well not so secretly actually, we were hoping that Henry – EJ’s regular mate – would return swiftly, drive VS from our nest and pair up with her himself.

“He is a much more reliable male osprey, a good provider of fish and something of a hero really.”

Mr Thaxton said Henry would always be their male osprey-of-choice.

However, loyalties among staff wavered when VS showed signs of having given up on his old ways and stuck by EJ after she laid his eggs.

Twelve days later Henry arrived at the loch and, with VS nowhere in sight, alighted the nest beside EJ.

Mr Thaxton said: “A packed house at the osprey centre held their collective breath and watched in horror as our worse fears were realised.

“Henry, on seeing the two eggs in the nest-cup, deftly kicked one egg right out of the nest to smash below the nest and the other was kicked too – lodging precariously on the rim of the nest.

“All who witnessed this were completely stunned by what they saw and my new staff team are completed gutted by this.”

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/highlands_and_islands/6587001.stm

Published: 2007/04/24 12:50:02 GMT

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