May 20, 2024
A mink raids an osprey nest on the Lynnhaven River

by Mary Reid Barrow

Perhaps the first documented evidence of a mink raiding an osprey nest in the Chesapeake Bay area, or anywhere for that matter, was revealed last week by a wildlife camera focused on a nest on the Eastern Branch of the Lynnhaven River.

Raptor expert Reese Lukei came upon the evidence as part of a study of osprey nestling predation on the Lynnhaven River. Reese has been looking into what is causing osprey nestlings to disappear with researcher Keriann Pfleger at the Virginia Aquarium for several years.

Their work is an adjunct to a larger study with Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at William and Mary. That study focuses on the decline of menhaden fish and the lack of available food for ospreys around the Bay.

Until now, great horned owls, eagles and crows were considered the main predators of baby ospreys on the river, Reese said. No one ever considered minks to be a culprit.

“This was totally unexpected,” he said.

As astute local osprey observer Robert Brown put it, “This is an utter astonishment, like suddenly finding someone’s been living in your guest room for three years!”

Reese and Robert once again will lead a LRNow Osprey Walk in First Landing Park on June 21. Until now there would have been no discussion of minks as a problem for nestlings until Lukei and Keriann placed wildlife cameras on four nests this spring. Some of those nests were active with chicks, Reese said. When they approached one of those active nests to replace the camera batteries, no ospreys were present.

“At least one adult is always protecting their young,” Reese explained. “The nest was empty!!”

Back ashore when Keriann read the camera’s memory card, “SURPRISE!!”, Reese wrote. The photos above from the Center for Conservation Biology’s wild life camera, taken in the dark of night, show the mink coming over the side of the nest and  with an osprey egg.

Over a short period of time the mink had eaten not only two chicks but also the egg, Reese said. The osprey platform was 80 feet from shore and 10 feet off a dock, he said.

Minks are semi-aquatic, and they can climb trees, Reese added. They also are omnivores, dining on most anything they can find.

Somewhat otter-like, minks are 25 or so inches long and almost 10 inches of that is tail. They weigh around three pounds, about the average weight of an osprey.

Minks live over most the eastern North America wherever there are wetlands. They are mostly nocturnal and are rarely seen.

But now a wildlife camera has seen what our eyes have not. Has anyone else out there come across mink on the Lynnhaven, camera or not?

LRNow Osprey Hike with Raptor Experts, Reese Lukei and Robert Brown, June 21, 9 a.m. to noon, First Landing state Park , 64th Street Narrows parking lot.


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