A venerable osprey that has already set records for breeding success has delighted conservationists and bird lovers by laying her 59th egg, confounding fears she might never breed again.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust said that Lady, a 26-year-old osprey nesting at the Lowes wildlife reserve in Perthshire, had laid her first egg of the breeding season after her latest mate returned to their nest.
Spotted protectively hunched over an egg at 13.34 pm by Scottish Wildlife Trust staff, the osprey and its eggs are now the subjects of a 24-hour nest stakeout, funded thanks to and SITA Tayside Biodiversity FundPeople’s Postcode Lottery, to keep the birds and their eggs safe from wildlife crime.
Anna Cheshier, the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Perthshire Ranger, said: “To see eggs on the nest again is simply remarkable. Osprey’s live an average of eight years and are estimated to produce 20 eggs during that time. Producing 59 eggs over 21 consecutive breeding years makes her an incredible specimen of the bird world.
“Ospreys were nearly extinct in the UK in the early 21st century after facing persecution, and the birds and eggs are still at risk from wildlife criminals and egg thieves. Thanks to funding from SITA Tayside Biodiversity Fund and People’s Postcode Lottery, and help from volunteers, we will watch over these ospreys day and night and hope to see chicks hatch in around five weeks.
“If chicks successfully hatch from the eggs, this osprey will have produced 50 chicks, an incredible contribution to the recovering osprey population breeding in Scotland. We hope to raise enough money to track these chicks using satellite tags this year, to find out about their inherited migration path and learn useful information which could help protect ospreys during migration.
"Until the eggs hatch, we will watch on as our female osprey incubates the eggs, while her mate occasionally takes a turn during daylight hours. He also has the role of catching fish to feed the pair."
Ospreys normally lay two to four eggs per season, so the reserve is hoping for at least one further egg to be laid, with the first chick expected within a week. The drama is being streamed live around the world, with a "nest cam" trained on the eyrie.
Lady (at left with first egg) broke another record last month when she returned for her 21st season at the Lowes reserve from a 6,000-mile round trip to winter in Gambia. After surviving a difficult summer when she fell seriously ill from dehydration and starvation, the trust feared she was unlikely to return home.
With the completion of this current grueling 3,000-mile migration from her wintering grounds in West Africa to her summer breeding territory at Loch of the Lowes in Perthshire, she has now traveled a total distance equivalent to around halfway to the moon.
Most ospreys live to be eight or 10 in the wild, producing up to 20 eggs; Lady is now 26 and has bred 48 surviving chicks. That total means she is now one of Britain's most important birds of prey, a matriarch playing a significant role in propping up the species' numbers.
Persecuted to extinction as a breeding bird in the UK in 1916, the osprey recolonized naturally in the 1950s but remains one of the UK's rarest birds of prey (at left Lady with egg). It is less common than the golden eagle, with an estimated 200 breeding pairs around Britain.
London Guardian,"Lay Lady lay ... record-breaking osprey does it again with egg #59", by Severin Carrell, accessed April 13, 2011
BBC, "Oldest osprey 'Lady' lays 59th egg at Loch of Lowes", accessed April 13, 2011
Walk Highlands, "Oldest Osprey lays 59th egg", accessed April 13, 2011
Scottish Wildlife Trust, "Oldest Osprey lays 59th egg", accessed April 13, 2011