Bird Cams Viewer Spots Montana Ospreys in Texas

By Michael Levin
November 25, 2014
Emmet the osprey tagged on bird Cams Emmet the Osprey. Photo by Sally Mitchell.

Live bird cams have all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. We get an intimate, birds-eye view of the stars, and can’t help but fall in love as we watch their story unfold. The birds are practically celebrities. So imagine the surprise of Sally Mitchell, an avid watcher of the Cornell Lab’s Montana Osprey cam, when she met one—all the way down in Texas.

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Not 5 miles from her home in Rockport (near Corpus Christi), Mitchell was walking along the beach taking photographs of local egrets. “I heard an Osprey call,” she said, “which was unmistakable after having watched the nests so often online.” She looked around, camera swiveling, and spotted one sitting on a nearby light pole.

Peeking through the lens, Mitchell did a double take. A baby blue smudge on the bird’s left leg caught her eye, a band with bold, white writing reading “M8.” “I knew he must have been from Montana,” Mitchell said. It was the same kind of band the Montana Osprey Project uses to identify birds that hatch around Missoula.

Mitchell passed her photos along to Dr. Erick Greene, a professor at the University of Montana and part of the research team that runs the Montana Osprey Project. He quickly confirmed that he had banded this particular bird in July—appropriately enough, at a nest on the home field of the local baseball team, the Missoula Osprey—and only a mile and a half away from the Bird Cams Osprey nest in Hellgate Canyon, Missoula, Montana.

“The first picture I opened, I knew instantly it was one of our birds,” said Greene. “These are such rare events, and I just got this tingle.” The rarity of resighting a bird without any kind of tracking device cannot be overstated. Along with Rob Domenech of the Raptor View Research Institute, Greene has banded upwards of 200 Ospreys since the Montana Osprey Project began in 2006, and only three of those birds have ever been resighted.

Greene got back to Mitchell with the exciting news and asked her if she would give the bird a name. She settled on Emmett, a clever echo of his identification number.

Erick Greene of the Montana Osprey Project tags Emmet the OspreyIn this photo from July 2014, Dr. Erick Greene of the Montana Osprey Project (in blue shirt and tan hat) prepares a blue band that reads "M8" for the young Osprey on his right, who we now know as "Emmett." At the age of about four months, Emmett flew solo from Montana to Texas, where Sally Mitchell, a Bird Cams viewer, spotted him. Photo by Judy Ellis, Missoula Osprey Baseball.

Mitchell said she plans to keep watching and photographing Emmett during his stay in Texas. Dr. Greene looks forward to gaining new insights into Osprey behavior, much as he did with the Osprey cams. “The first time we put up a camera, in the first five minutes I was watching it, I was seeing stuff I’d never, ever seen before,” said Greene. Mitchell’s photography will help Dr. Greene fill in the gaps about a bird whose previous life we already know so much about.

route maps for sarellite tagged ospreysTwo Ospreys from Montana are wintering right next to each other near Rockport, Texas, after making separate 2,000 mile migrations. Emmett is a young-of-the year who was luckily resighted by a Bird Cams fan without any tracking. Olive, an adult female, is being tracked by satellite and wound up on almost the exact same stretch of coastline. Data from MPG Ranch and Raptor View Research Institute. Explore their live Osprey maps.

Turns out, Emmett isn’t the only Missoulian in eastern Texas, which is a popular wintering destination for Ospreys. Real-time location data shows that an adult female Osprey named Olive, who nested this year less than 15 miles from Emmett’s nest, has settled within 20 miles of him in Texas. She’s even given Rockport a flyby every now and again. Another Montana bird, named Rapunzel, is staying just up the coast near Galveston for the winter.

Other satellite tracking research has shown that Ospreys from certain breeding areas often do winter in the same regions. For instance, Ospreys from the Northeast work their way down the Atlantic coast, then island-hop through the Caribbean and Cuba to South America; whereas West Coast Ospreys tend to hug the shoreline and settle in Baja California. Midwestern Ospreys head south on similar paths but seem to disagree about which spot is best. Some peel off west to Mexico’s Pacific coast, while others head east for the Gulf of Mexico. Regardless, Greene said, having two birds end up so close to each other at both ends of their migration is rare.

Emmett’s migration remains pretty mysterious. We know he flew lengthwise across the country, logging at least 2,000 miles to make the trip, and that juvenile Ospreys figure out their own migration routes and destinations. What we don’t know is what the birds do while on the move, or why they choose certain areas to eventually settle down in.

“He probably won’t migrate back next summer—he’ll probably stay for another full year,” said Greene. Juvenile Ospreys stay up to four years in their wintering grounds, presumably honing their fishing skills so they can provide for a mate and young when the time comes. Take heart, Missoulians—and in a few years, keep an eye out for that M8 band. “Males tend to settle closer to where they are born,” Greene said. “My prediction would be that Emmett will probably end up somewhere in that general area [of Missoula] up in Montana.”

Emmet the Osprey eats a fishEmmett works on his fishing skills in Rockport, Texas. He'll probably stay around Texas for the next few years until he's ready to try to find a mate and raise young of his own—at which point he'll most likely head back to Montana. Photo by Sally Mitchell

For now, Mitchell is more than content to have Emmett nearby. She sets out regularly to play paparazza. “I’ve checked his two favorite sites almost every day,” she said. She marveled at the sheer odds involved in spotting him—“When you think of the territory they cover and the birds that have been banded, that I should see him is miraculous,” she said.

So if you pass through Rockport any time soon, keep an eye out for blue bands and a white belly. Just be careful asking for any autographs.

More stories from our Bird Cams project:

(Dr. Erick Greene and the Montana Osprey Project are partners in the Cornell Lab’s Osprey cams. Tracking of Olive and other Montana Ospreys is conducted by Rob Domenech, the Raptor View Research Institute, and MPG Ranch—where you can follow further movements of Olive, Rapunzel, and other Ospreys.)


  • Helen Hammonds

    This made my day,, I could feel my heart rate go up. There he was with a big fat fish. I was wondering if they were healthy and eating good.

  • Jacquie L

    What an amazing story! It shows what an invaluable educational tool these bird cams have become. We’ll be looking forward to future news about Emmett’s life in Texas!

  • Gail Taylor

    WOW! What a story to unfold here for Sally Mitchell and the University of Montana. What are the chances of someone picking up that blue band on an osprey that has migrated so far from Montana. Well, amazingly, pretty good. I am envious Sally, and I know if it were me I would also be out every day looking for Emmitt. Keep up the great work Dr. Greene. We love you and your team as much as we love our osprey and cams. :)

  • PJ

    Great article! I can appreciate the surprise and excitement of seeing one in person after watching them online. We are so fortunate to have this experience thanks to the cams. I’m so excited for her!!! Am following our local Osprey with transmitters right now.

  • I have osprey living close to me in Washington state. This article was great. I’ll be watching for my osprey next spring in Southern California !

  • Anna

    Great work (and good eyes) Sally! What fun!

  • RB

    Have been watching several local Oregon osprey nests for 10+ years and was interested to learn where local birds spend winters. Willamette Valley osprey populations have definitely increased over this time with more nest sites each year. Never tire of watching this incredible bird!

  • Sherri Hedman

    This is very exciting data, both for your team and those of us who love Osprey’s, i.e. Seahawks. We enjoy watching their fishing skills while at our beach place on Whidbey Island in Washington State each summer, then observe them flying with their catches–sometimes right over our place to their nest in the trees. Thank you for informing us that our Northwest Osprey winter in Baja,California.


  • Carolanne White

    Wonderful article……How awesome to have sighted the ospreys! I love the Cornell bird cams as it is….but this just made it even better!!

  • RE

    How amazing is that! It must have been a thrill for Sally — so glad it was all shared in this newsletter. I just started watching the cams this past spring/summer. It has been a wonderful experience; I appreciate Cornell’s BirdWork so much. Congrats to you, Sally.

  • With Transmitters on 21+ Birds from the North East and 6 Osprey from South East Michigan sending back data, One Wonders Why the 3 UNNAMED offspring from Stan and Iris did NOT Qualify for this Honor? Consider the fact that the 3 UNNAMED got more TV time than the other 27 Combined, hence the UNNAMED could have become Household Words. Hmmm-I am sure that the $$$$$ for the Transmitters would have appeared IF asked for. After 3 Complete Seasons of Viewing, I was Stunned at No Bands, No Names, and Then No Transmitters. Does NOT Compute!

  • This is the coolest! Birds never cease to amaze me!

  • I loved this article and keep up the great work and I am from Missoula so I will keep on the look out for the osprey and post some more blogs if you see anything cool

  • Nick H
  • Dorothy Moles

    The nest that Emmett came from is north of where I live, I watched the banding of Emmett and two other chicks from the nest. No cam on that nest but I took pictures of those chicks before they fledged so I was beyond excited when I saw pictures and information Sally Mitchell posted, so thankful she followed up to find out where Emmett migrated from.

  • wow great article…..i am totally amazed by seeing those birds and thank you very much for the informative post.

  • Peggy Hart

    That is a great story. I have been watching Ospreys at Hellgate & Lolo. Love them. Glad to see one was spotted in TX. I live i MT.

  • John Todd

    Well Sir, if you watched the ospreys the whole season, you should have seen this explanation by Dr. Greene, but since you apparently missed it, here it is:
    We have decided not to band the chicks at the Hellgate nest and we want to share our reasons with you. You can think of our Montana Osprey Project as a three-legged stool, involving research, education and conservation.
    We originally set up the camera at this Hellgate nest mainly for educational purposes – to share with you this very intimate window into one Osprey family’s daily life. This camera has been amazingly successful: Iris and Stanley and their chicks are watched by many thousands of people in almost 200 countries around the world. We have become very attached to these wild birds, and their daily, monthly and yearly trials and tribulations have captivated all of us. Through the lives of Iris and Stanley and their chicks, we are also able to share with you larger issues about behavior, ecology and conservation of Ospreys and other wildlife. For example, we have been sharing our research results about toxins in our rivers, lakes and streams, the dangers of baling twine, and migration and dispersal behavior (starring globe-trotting Rapunzel).
    But in previous years the Hellgate nest has done double-duty – we have used it both for both education (the camera) and research (taking blood and feather samples from the chicks). We now have intensively sampled Osprey chicks for nine years. We have done this along a stretch of more than 150 miles of the Clark Fork River in one of the largest EPA Superfund Sites in the country. The Osprey chicks have helped us understand how toxic heavy metals associated with mining (especially arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, and zinc) move through aquatic ecosystems, how they get concentrated in the top aquatic predators (Ospreys), what effect heavy metals have on Osprey reproduction, and how effective the Superfund remediation and restoration has been.
    We are still conducting our research on heavy metals in Ospreys. But we now have a very complete data set from many nests from nine years. Since we now have such good baseline information, we have now scaled back our sampling to many fewer Osprey nests, strategically placed across our large study area. This summer we have only taken blood from Osprey chicks at six nests. In total we banded 14 chicks, and we are delighted to report that all of them went back into their nests just as feisty as they were when we took them out.
    Any time we band birds there is a very small risk of injury or even death. We are extremely careful when we band and bleed chicks, but we are always aware that there is a risk. Our number one guiding principle when we band chicks is their safety. But if anything bad should ever happen while we were banding the Hellgate chicks it would devastate all of us. Even though this is extremely unlikely, we do not want to risk it. And since we do not need to sample as many nests now, we are going to dedicate the Hellgate nest solely to education. We will continue to update you on the results of our research, but we will not band the Hellgate chicks.
    Cheers, Erick Greene

  • Enjoying ospreycam link. Have been observing two osprey nests in Salem, Oregon, both supporting nesting pairs over many years. They are making a great comeback all over it seems. Keep it up!