Back from the brink
The osprey was once a common sight in the UK. Intensive persecution and habitat loss during the 18th and 19th centuries led to the extinction of ospreys as a breeding bird in England in 1847. A fragmented population remained in Scotland with breeding last recorded in 1916. Ospreys were still sighted as passage migrants and in 1954 the natural re-colonisation of ospreys in Scotland began with individuals thought to have been Scandinavian in origin.
The re-colonisation of ospreys in Scotland was slow and it was predicted it would take over 100 years before ospreys were once again breeding in England. Thanks to pioneering conservation efforts, ospreys have made a triumphant return to the UK, in what is widely celebrated as an incredible conservation success story. You can be part of that story.
All the ospreys that have been translocated or born as part of the Rutland Osprey Project are fitted with two rings: a colour Darvic ring (usually blue and white), which has a unique identifying number on it, and a BTO metal ring. The colour rings can be read at a distance through binoculars, allowing us to identify individual birds. We refer to 'our' ospreys using these codes, so 33(11) has the number '33' on his blue ring and was born in 2011. We have only named one osprey, and that is our Manton Bay female - Maya. Three ospreys are also satellite tracked using lightweight transmitters. This allows us to track them up and down their migration routes, giving us an invaluable insight into the life of an osprey beyond Rutland Water.
Ospreys at Rutland Water
In 1996, a translocation project began, moving chicks from nests in Scotland and releasing them at Rutland Water with the aim to create a breeding population of ospreys in central England.
The project reached a milestone in 2001 when 03(97), a male osprey translocated to Rutland Water in 1997, raised a single chick with an un-ringed female close to the reservoir. This was the start of a huge conservation success story. Today, over 150 young ospreys have fledged from nests in the Rutland Water area since the first chick in 2001.
We now have a self-sustaining population, with some fledged individuals even breeding in other parts of England and Wales. Most of the nests are situated on private land, however, one pair breed on the Nature Reserve in Manton Bay. You can find out more about some of our ospreys below.
Maya and 33(11) - Manton Bay
The osprey nest in Manton Bay has been in use since 2007 by different osprey pairings, but has been occupied since 2010 by the same female bird - an unringed Scottish female, nicknamed 'Maya'.
Maya arrived in the summer of 2009, and spent the summer bonding with a Rutland-fledged male osprey, 32(05). The pair did not breed, but both returned in 2010. Unfortunately, in 2010 two male ospreys went missing from Rutland, and 32(05) was one of them. Left alone, Maya began to look elsewhere for a mate, and she came across Manton Bay and a male osprey, 5R(04). At the time, Maya did not have a name. She was always referred to as the Manton Bay Female. Over the next few seasons, it was decided it would be easier to talk and write about her, and for people to relate to her if she had a name. Eventually we settled on Maya. Not only is it a lovely name, but it contains the first and last two letters in Manton Bay, and comes from the Greek Maia, who was the goddess of spring.
In 2010, Maya and 5R successfully raised three healthy chicks. Over the next three years, the pair raised another eight. Maya and 5R have a high return, as five of their young have since returned to Rutland!
In 2014, unfortunately, 5R failed to return to Rutland. After weeks of anxious waiting, we came to realise, as did Maya, that he was not going to come back. Ospreys face many challenges on migration, and we won't ever know what happened, sadly. Maya found a new partner in 28(10) and laid three eggs. But the nest suffered persistent intrusions from 33(11), who wanted the nest for himself. Eventually, 33 chased 28 away from his nest, and kicked out the eggs. After a while, 33 and Maya formed a bond, but it was too late to breed.
As we see Maya every day on the live webcam, we have come to know her very well as an individual. All ospreys have unique, distinguishing characteristics, and Maya can easily be identified by the distinct markings on her head and face, in particular the cross that is visible on the back of her head. She has now raised 26 chicks since she first bred in 2010. She has provided us with a fabulous insight into the nature of osprey motherhood over the years we have watched her; for example, she accompanies each chick as they make their first flights.
33(11) has always been a strong character. He was born in 2011 at the nest we refer to as Site B – his parents are 03(97) and the unringed female with whom 03(97) bred with from 2009 (see below). 33 was the only chick at Site B that year. He did not have to compete for food and consequently grew quickly into a strong, healthy juvenile.
33 returned to Rutland for the first time as a two-year-old on 11th May 2013. He was first spotted in Manton Bay, by Project Officer Paul Stammers and volunteer Mick Lewin, then later was seen back at his natal nest, Site B. In 2014, he returned on 13th April and immediately began pestering Maya and 28(10) in Manton Bay. He did not give up until he chased 28 away and claimed the nest.
In 2015, both Maya and 33 returned to Manton Bay and bred successfully, raising three chicks together. He appears to enjoy spending time on the nest, more so than other males. Since 2016, they have raised an additional 12 chicks, including a record breaking four chicks in 2019!
03(97) - Mr Rutland
We didn’t know it at the time, but of the eight birds who arrived at Rutland Water in July 1997 there was one who would go onto have a profound effect on the future of ospreys in both England and Wales. His legacy and popularity, both with our volunteers and the media, would lead to him being nicknamed 'Mr Rutland'.
In 2001, 03(97), a male osprey translocated to Rutland Water in 1997, raised a single chick with an unringed female at a nest on private land. He was the first bird from the translocation project to breed. Since then, 03 continued to breed every year up to 2014, and raised a total of 32 chicks with three different females during that time. Mortality among young ospreys is very high; as many as 70% of young birds failing to survive the first two years of their life. And yet 40% of 03(97)’s offspring who are old enough to have returned to the UK, have made it back. Prior to this summer those 12 birds had, in turn, reared a total of 43 chicks between them, and, to date, four of those 43 have gone on to breed successfully. So aside from being a grandfather many times over, 03(97) was also a great grandfather to 15 young Ospreys.
Sadly, 03 is no longer breeding at Rutland Water after he failed to return in 2016 at the grand age of 18. However, his legacy lives on as several of his offspring are now breeding in the area.
30(05), S1(15), 4K(13) - Satellite Tracking
Female Osprey 30 fledged from the Site B nest in 2005. She returned to Rutland in 2007 and bred for the first time in 2009, raising two chicks with translocated male 08(01), at a nest on private land known as Site K. 30 and 08 raised a further six chicks from 2010 to 2012. Sadly 08 did not return in 2013 and 30 did not breed in 2013 or 2014. In 2015, however, she found a new mate and raised two chicks, and has bred since. She was fitted with a GPS tracker in 2013. In 2019 her tracker unfortunately stopped working, but over the past 6 years we have gained a huge insight into her movements in Rutland, along her migratory route and in her wintering grounds.
Male osprey S1 fledged from Manton Bay in 2015. He was one of the first chicks that Maya and 33(11) the current Manton Bay pair had. He was ringed on the 30th June and left for his first migration on the 29th August 2015. S1 was first seen back in the UK in 2017, both in Poole Harbour then in Rutland. He has been holding territory but has not yet managed to attract a female. S1(15) was fitted with a GPS tracker in August 2018. Unfortunately in July 2020, we stopped receiving signals from S1(15)'s satellite tracker after he made a remarkable trip to the Netherlands and German. To read more about this follow the link below.
Male osprey 4K fledged from a nest on private land in 2013. He was ringed on 12th July 2013. He first returned to Rutland on 9th June 2015 and has been holding territory, but has not yet successfully attracted a female. 4K(13) was fitted with a GPS tracker August 2018. 4K(13) is now the only Osprey within the Rutland population fitted with a satellite tracker.
For more information on satellite tracking, please follow the link below.
History of the Rutland Osprey Project
Ospreys have been using Rutland Water as a stop-off during their migrations to and from Scotland for years, almost as long as the reservoir has existed. However, despite a healthy and growing Scottish population, it was estimated that it could take at least 150 years for ospreys to naturally re-colonise the whole of the UK. With some pioneering efforts and outstanding stakeholder working, the Rutland Osprey Project was about to change all this, and see ospreys soaring over central England once more...
In 1954, following their official extinction in 1916, a pair of ospreys attempted to breed at Loch Garten in the eastern highlands of Scotland. Since then, thanks to pioneering conservation efforts by the RSPB, imaginative solutions to conservation conflicts and huge support from locals, tourists and stakeholders, the Scottish population has grown to over 210 pairs. However, natural colonisation was slow. Young male ospreys prefer to breed close to the sites where they first fledge. It’s over 60 years since the first Scottish breeding success and the majority of nests are still close to the original site. The population in Scotland, while expanding in size, does remain vulnerable to food shortages, disease and the vagaries of the weather. With all this in mind, it was estimated that it could take at least 150 years for ospreys to naturally re-colonise the whole of the UK.
Ospreys at Rutland Water
Ospreys have been using Rutland Water as a stop-off during their migrations to and from Scotland for years, almost as long as the reservoir had existed. In 1986, the first efforts were made to attract ospreys to stay and breed in the summer, with the installation of the first nest pole.
In 1994, a young female spent the summer at Rutland Water, and in the same year, a number of artificial nesting platforms were built, guided by Roy Dennis of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife – and also a world leading expert on ospreys. Together with Reserve Manager Tim Appleton, the idea came of translocating Scottish Ospreys to Rutland Water. Anglian Water pledged financial support too, allowing long-term plans to be drawn up.
In June 1996, following 18 months of negotiation, a licence was granted by Scottish Natural Heritage, allowing up to twelve chicks to be removed from a choice of 35 nests in the eastern Highlands of Scotland. English Nature (now Natural England) were also included as the birds would have to be held captive on the reserve for a few weeks, involving more licenses.
During the translocation, 6-week-old chicks were chosen from broods in accordance with the licence requirements, and driven overnight down to England. All donor nests were on private estates or on Forestry Commission land. The chicks were given two rings, as are all Rutland Osprey chicks; a coloured Darvic plastic ring to help with identification and a BTO ring. On arrival at Rutland Water, the Osprey chicks were placed in release pens. The pens provided wide-ranging views over the lagoons of the Reserve and the wider body of the reservoir. The chicks were fed twice or three times a day with pieces of fresh trout, introduced through small hatches to minimise disturbance.
Each bird had a small radio tag attached to its central tail feather, weighing 15g. These radios would allow the team to keep track of the young birds as they made their initial flights around Rutland Water.
When the birds were ready to be released, volunteers were posted discreetly at key vantage points around the reserve and the front of the pen was gently lowered. Often it was several hours before the birds launched themselves from their platforms, although some birds took advantage of their freedom immediately. It was always a tense moment, but the birds instinctively knew how to gain height, glide, change direction in the air.
After the chicks fledged, larger pieces or whole fish were provided on the platforms near the release pens. Until they migrated the young osprey came back to feed on the fish, just as their siblings in Scotland would have returned to their nests to take fish provided by their parents.
By the end of August or early September the young ospreys were often spending long periods of time away from the reserve. They were seen at various other lakes and rivers and usually returned each night to feed. Then, often on a bright, clear, breezy day, radio contact was lost with individual birds and they did not come back. On occasions this was witnessed by volunteers and members of the team. A bird would set out with determined purpose, flying south strongly and gaining height until it became a speck in the sky and then out of sight.
The story so far
During 2004, six non-breeding adult males were frequently recorded in Rutland, as well as the regular breeding pair. All eight adults were birds that had previously been translocated. Based on the previous experience of translocation in North America, it had been expected that these males would have been able to attract passing females to stay and breed, but this was proving not to be the case. Early in 2005, a proposal was made to Scottish Natural Heritage and English Nature, requesting permission to collect a further batch of young ospreys from Scottish nests during 2005, but this time trying to select females.
By June 2005, permission was granted to bring chicks from Scotland to England in order to redress the gender imbalance in the Rutland population. Of the eleven chicks moved south nine of these turned out to be females. One disappeared very soon after release and the other ten migrated in September.
The long-term aim of the project was and is to create a completely self-sustaining breeding population. Now, we are confident we have sufficient adult ospreys and returning chicks to form a population which does not need to be further supported by translocation. It is encouraging that the population has swelled by way of some Scottish ospreys stopping off to breed, as was first hoped all those years ago. In most recent years, it is also encouraging that Rutland-born Ospreys are returning to breed here and in other parts of Britain, including Wales, showing the impact that the project has had both locally and nationally. The success of the Rutland Osprey Project has directly led to similar Osprey translocation projects in Andalucia, in Spain and Maremma National Park, Italy.
Ospreys are an incredible bird of prey. They live exclusively on fish, have a wingspan of just over 1.5 metres and can turn one of their toes a full 180 degrees! They dive into water feet-first to catch fish, using power talons to catch their prey. Ospreys in the UK migrate south to Africa every winter - a journey of over 3,000 miles to Senegal and the Gambia - and they do this without their parents. They can live for around 20 years.