Ferris State’s resident reality stars are nothing like the Kardashians, as they boast a 70-inch wingspan and talons in lieu of millions of dollars.
The Ferris State Ospreys Webcam Project was launched eight years ago and allows viewers to get a look in on the lives of the birds and their young. Recently, the two osprey parents from last season returned to their nest site on a light fixture high above Ferris’ Swann Building.
The Facebook page dedicated to the osprey webcam has accumulated 2,910 likes, and sees support from Ferris students, Big Rapids natives and even people outside of the United States.
The project’s beginnings
A camera set on a peregrine falcon’s nest built on a bank in Fargo, North Dakota inspired Ferris State’s osprey camera. While attending graduate school at North Dakota State University, Ferris biology professor Paul Klatt took note of the enthusiasm that the bird’s eye view of the falcon’s nest provided.
“The businesses around all donated money to put a camera and a nest box on the bank,” Klatt said. “All the dorky bird graduate students loved it so much.”
Having worked at Ferris for 11 years, Klatt attempted to get the ball rolling on the osprey camera project during his first year in Big Rapids after spotting one of the birds.
“When I got hired here in 2005, believe it or not I was just walking out of the building once and I saw an osprey flying over me carrying a big stick. So I started following it. I ran after it wondering where this thing was going,” Klatt said.
Ospreys were on the state endangered list during that time, so Klatt had to pursue a permit from the DNR while also keeping up with his work in the classroom. After three years of planning, applying for grants and preparing equipment, the feed went live.
Ferris associate welding professor Dave Murray and some of his welding students developed schematics and built the bracket and mounting system that connects the camera to the platform. Though, they also installed another piece of hardware—the vitally important “poop shield.”
“About two years ago one of the birds hit it straight on. A direct poop shot right on the front of the camera. It was hazy for about a month and a half before the rain finally washed it off,” Klatt said.
Despite rare issues with bird poop, the nest remains relatively tidy throughout the year, and Klatt believes this is due to the area’s lack of errant trash and litter.
“If you look at other osprey nests on camera around the nation, you’ll see that they tend to bring garbage in,” Klatt said. “It kind of shows you the cleanliness of the immediate area.”
During the eight-year span Ferris has spent following the ospreys, just three pieces of garbage have appeared in the nest. A broken piece of PVC pipe, a clothes hanger and a small piece of mesh had become pieces of the nesting structure, but have since either fallen off the platform or been buried by sticks.
Though those few pieces of garbage are not the only odd relics that the birds have picked up.
“One year, a juvenile went to get his first fish then brought it back to the platform. It was a pretty big goldfish,” Klatt said. “It must have come out of a pond in someone’s backyard.”
The ospreys this year
Having arrived on March 29 this year, the familiar female is still breaking in her new partner. She has been showing him how courtship feeding works, and reminding him to regularly fetch fish to bring back to the nest.
“The female we have now is a good one. She’s had a lot of young over the years,” Klatt said.
The female has regularly raised 2-3 young per season, but her new partner has had some trouble getting on the same page, to say the least.
“Last year was the first year for our new male. He’s our new stud,” Klatt said. “We make fun of him because he’s had some trouble. He was mounting her on the back of her head and for a long time just having trouble. People were worried we weren’t going see any babies, how about that?”
The male finally got his bearings, and students were thrilled by his success.
“I heard from some A & P professors who had it on during class that when he finally made proper contact there were cheers all down the hallway that we were going to have young,” Klatt said.
Students cheering for intercourse between two birds shows just how swept up in the ospreys’ behavior people can become.
“It is interesting to see students who may not necessarily be from around here take some sort of ownership of it, and be proud of it. Then people who live around here are proud of it just because they are from here,” Klatt said. “We see all these people kind of coming together to enjoy the birds on our Facebook page.”
Klatt expects the first egg to be laid by April 12. To follow the live stream of the ospreys, click here.