A black bear got caught on camera trying to climb into an osprey nest, much to the fascination of wildlife watchers worldwide.
“You know something’s going on, when you see the osprey coming in sideways and then the bear pops up on the side,” said Denver Holt, who set up the camera at his Owl Research Institute headquarters near Charlo. “I’d seen that bear on the ground outside my window. I probably missed it by two minutes. I was sitting there the whole time and I just didn’t look left.”
The incident took place about 6:35 a.m. Monday according to the live feed records of Explore.org, the international organization that aggregates wildlife cameras around the world. The video shows the empty nest, with osprey zooming around, then something pops over the far side. A few seconds later, the bear’s snout appears in the lower left and the osprey repeatedly strafes it. The bear’s effort makes the 25-foot telephone pole shake and rattle. Finally both osprey, locally known as Charlie and Charolette, return to a perch above the nest. Their three eggs were unharmed.
Holt said he’s seen fish scraps left over from osprey feeding around the base of the nest and a nearby fence, which may attract scavengers to the site. But he’d never seen a bear try to climb the pole. For that matter, he’d rarely seen black bears in the vicinity. More often he’s had grizzly bears walking through.
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal bear specialist Stacy Courville said he hadn’t heard of black bears climbing osprey nests before either. But the proliferation of remote cameras has opened a window to wildlife behavior that even career researchers haven’t had before.
“Before you just had to luck out to see something like that,” Courville said.
The Owl Research Institute cameras have turned up other fascinating activity. Holt said after he installed infrared capability on the nest, he learned something remarkable about a nearby great horned owl that nested about 125 yards away from the osprey nest.
“In the dark of night, you can see Charlie the male sleeping and Charlotte the female is on the eggs,” Holt said of some archival footage. “Then you see these two glowing spots, and it’s the great horned owl coming in and he whacks the osprey. He knocked Charlie right off the perch three nights in a row. The attacks are unbelievable. You wonder how he survives.”
Another favorite species, the great gray owl, was long assumed to hunt in the twilight hours of morning and evening. Night-vision cameras revealed they are far more active at night, Holt said. Great grays also fight with great horned owls, and turn out to be more competitive than originally thought.
Holt’s colleagues were studying a great gray owl nest and one day found its eggs broken on the ground. Claw marks on the tree bark indicated a black bear might have been the raider, but that was just a guess. Seeing Monday’s bear attempt to get at Charlie and Charlotte’s clutch adds evidence to assumptions about the threats bird families face.
“The cameras expose some really cool behavioral stuff,” Holt said. I always thought I knew a lot about owls, and then — Oh, my God — I didn’t know that. How cool is this?”