Shaking off the winter doldrums – we, in the Northern hemisphere, welcome the Vernal Equinox. At this time, when the Sun passes over the plane of the Earth’s equator, the length of day and night are approximately the same. This heralds the beginning of Spring, a time to plant the seeds for new beginnings and renewal of life. Druids, seeing life in all living things as sacred, celebrated Alban Eilir, “the Light of the Earth”. The egg symbolized Alban Eilir. Ancient Egyptian and African rituals of decorating eggs for Vernal Equinox celebrations influenced early Christian and Islamic customs. Pagans celebrate Ostara. To this day, the egg plays a part in Spring and Eastertide festivals and rituals.
Lengthening early Spring days is the catalyst, awakening Nature’s inner clockwork. Heightened drive impels the Ospreys to fly on a duration marathon of 3,000 miles to mate and lay their eggs in a place they consider home. After separate winter vacations in Central or South America, ospreys return to their old familiar nesting platform, reuniting with the same mate.
These raptors face the worst of nature, returning home in half of the time it takes them to fly south in the fall. Ice storms, hail, and late snowfall do not discourage these strong, sleek birds with wingspans of six feet, from making their pilgrimage to reunite, in order to co-habit and raise a prospective brood. The former nest is rebuilt and re-arranged with large sticks and all kinds of flotsam and jetsam. The osprey is known to incorporate all manner of articles in their architecture, from plastic bags, to a Barbie doll, to fish netting, (the latter an entanglement danger).
The male performs the mating ritual dance to demonstrate his ability to provide for his mate and their brood while nesting after the chicks hatch. Large, speckled eggs blend into the nest, camouflaged from predators. The promises of future life are dependent on the day after day, night after night, warmth and protection of the adult pair. Ospreys sit through ice storms, rain, and later, in the heat of the sun, with no protective cover or water bottles to provide relief. In short time, the tiny chicks transform from alien-like fuzzy beings to adult like birds. Juveniles sport orange eyes and speckled feathers, differentiating them from the adults, and camouflaging them from predators.
The male, constantly fishing, disappears and returns with a catch often as large as his body. The female feeds the chicks, then, eats the remainder of the catch. Ospreys have unique feet, sharp talons and fierce curving beaks – to fish, feed, and protect, but in the nest the mother turns her talons underneath and gently feeds their chicks. This short time spent raising hatchlings to fledglings makes the journey of endurance worthwhile.
As the days start to wane, the juveniles start self-feeding and then learn to fly. The mottled feathered fledglings flap their wings in the nest, practicing take off. After many awkward starts – some teetering on ship masts for hours, the fledglings soar. “Watch me,” the first one seems to say, soaring back to siblings in the nest. A nest, standing high above the boat masts or marsh, may house up to four or five adult sized birds. The adults teach the fledglings to fish as the last lesson to independence.
Seahawks, found all around the world, are a symbol of the return of Spring and also of strength and resilience. DDT toxicity almost wiped out entire populations of osprey, pelicans and bald eagles. The Osprey population successfully made a comeback after the use of DDT was legally eliminated. These poisons endangered beings that nature has gifted us with, beings that teach us many rich lessons about life and renewal of commitment.
As the marsh colors transform from blue greens to reddish browns, the raptors abandon the nest for another season, leaving behind a feather, and a place in our hearts.