Meet the Raptor Responsible for Enormous Nests in Montana
You've probably seen the old meme that describes the seasons of Montana in various stages. You know, the one that looks something like this.
It certainly feels like False Spring #1 this week, so I took advantage of the nice weather and spent some time at a couple of my favorite public recreation areas on the Yellowstone River near Billings.
Giant nests on top of poles.
The Duck Creek Fishing Access Site is a popular spot on the outskirts of Billings for hiking, fishing, dog walking, rock collecting, etc. Pulling into the parking lot, I was the lone car on a sunny weekday afternoon. I've been here many, many times, yet the humungous birds nest on top of the power pole still catches my eye each time. It's massive. Probably between 6 to 8 feet in diameter and nearly 5 feet tall. What kind of bird lives here?
Not the bald eagle.
It's easy to assume the oversized bird nests are for bald eagles, but you would be mistaken. Typically, these giant nests are home to ospreys, a raptor found near bodies of water in most of Montana. They have distinctive brown and white plumage and a wingspan that can reach up to six feet. Ospreys are known for their agility and strength and can be seen hunting for fish (primarily rough fish like suckers, according to Montana FW&P) in the rivers and lakes of Montana. They are also known for their large nests, which are often built on top of tall trees or on man-made structures such as power poles. If you've spent any time in Montanas outdoors, you've surely heard their calls.
Osprey numbers remain stable in Montana.
The raptor's numbers declined after Europeans arrived in North America, but data indicated the osprey population is now healthy in Montana. The bird has few natural predators and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks note that its threats are largely human-caused.
Contaminants, electrocution, and to a lesser extent baling twine all represent threats to populations in Montana.
Next time you're out wandering around the river, keep your eyes open for ospreys. If you're lucky, you'll get to witness one dive-bombing to the surface of the water to catch an unsuspecting fish.