This week’s assembly looks at conservation, using the example of a pair of ospreys who have returned to nest again at the Scottish Wildlife Trust Centre ***Assembly Plan***

An elderly lady returns home

Each year, a pair of ospreys returns to breed at the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s (SWT) centre at Loch of the Lowes. The female is probably twenty years old now and each visit is now a much welcomed event. She and her partner returned at the end of March. They have mated and, if the elderly bird lays three eggs, which she has done in the past, it will bring her total at the centre to fifty. So, this one pair have played a major part in maintaining and increasing the population of this very rare and beautiful bird. The osprey was once common in the UK, then became extinct, and is now on the increase again thanks to the dedicated work of the RSPB and other wildlife organisations.


Resources

You need osprey pictures and access to an osprey ‘nestcam’ either at the SWT website www.swt.org.uk or at the Rutland Water breeding site through www.ospreys.org.uk

Introduction

When you wake early in the morning just now you can hear birdsong. Or at least I hope you can. It’s wonderful to lie awake and listen to the birds − one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. But, as you know, so many birds are threatened by changes in the environment. The places they nest are destroyed by building, or by changes to farming, or by the cutting down of hedges and trees. Sometimes their food disappears because of chemicals used to kill insects. All birds have a struggle to survive and sometimes they just don’t succeed. There are some success stories, though, and this is one of them.

The Osprey story

(Use the webcam on your whiteboard, or the pictures.)

This is the story of the osprey, a big and beautiful and rare hunting bird. It’s an impressive looking creature, like an eagle on the wing, with a wingspan of a metre and a half. It lives on live fish, which it catches in its claws − it was often called the fish hawk in earlier times. It spots fish just underneath the surface of a lake or the sea from a height of thirty metres or so and then drops down into the water in a welter of spray to secure its catch. It can go up to a metre under water, holding its breath, then it comes up, shakes itself in mid-air and flies off with the fish wriggling in its grasp. Quite often it misses the fish it was after, but it only needs one good catch to feed itself for the day. In the winter, the osprey lives in the warmth of the south − European ospreys usually in South Africa. Then, when spring comes, it returns North. And it comes back to its home, to its own nest − a huge, untidy looking structure of twigs and branches and anything else the bird finds lying about, including black bin bags. Once, there were many ospreys in Britain. They were a common sight, swooping and diving over lakes and ponds and the coast. But, gradually, they were shot and hunted, and their eggs were stolen until, by 1916, there were no more breeding pairs in Britain, just the occasional visitor. Then, in the 1950s, a few returned, straying into Scotland from Norway. Even then they were very slow to spread, until organisations like the RSPB and others began to encourage them by setting up nesting sites, and organising protection for the nests. At first they only nested in Scotland, but now they’re also to be found in England, at Rutland Water and in the Lake District. The most famous osprey breeding pair is the one that, for some years, has returned to Loch of the Lowes in Perthshire, Scotland. The female is twenty years old now, and it’s expected that she will soon lay her eggs, and six weeks after that the chicks will hatch. And the good news is that you can see all of that on the live webcam that looks at her nest. Watch for those chicks arriving. As you might expect, she and her eggs will be well protected by seventy volunteers, who will keep an eye on the nest twenty-four hours a day. Why do you think that’s necessary? Because, for every rare bird, there are people who think it’s a good idea to steal the eggs. It’s difficult to see why they do it, because it’s against the law to steal birds’ eggs and so, even if they get them they can’t go showing them off. Only a week ago, an egg collector was given twenty-three weeks in prison for stealing birds’eggs. He had a collection of seven thousand eggs and, yes, he did have some osprey eggs. Every stolen egg is a bird that won’t survive, and every egg thief is working against all of the people who are trying to make sure that birds survive and breed and thrive and bring pleasure to us all.

Conclusion

It’s easy to take birds for granted, but they’re an important part of our environment, doing their bit in the food chain and the cycle of life. More than that, they give us great pleasure and enjoyment by their beauty in flight and their songs. It’s up to us to make sure the air is filled with birds and with birdsong, and that rare species continue to survive and return to us year after year.

Prayer

Lord, we thank you for the birds of the air that enrich our world and bring us joy. Give patience and determination to all those who work to ensure that rare birds continue to thrive. Help people whose compulsion is to collect eggs to turn their interest in other directions.


Reflection

What does it say about us if we create a world where wild creatures die out because we can’t find a way of living with them?

Things to do

  • Do you know what sort of birds visit your school grounds?
  • Do you know how to encourage them and watch them and keep a record.
  • Look at the RSPB website to see what can be done. www.rspb.org.uk

An Osprey poem

This is part of a poem by Alexander Wilson (1766-1813). It shows how common the Osprey once was and refers to the arrival of the osprey at the time of the spring equinox.

Soon as the sun, great ruler of the year, Bends to our northern clime his bright career, And from the caves of ocean calls from sleep The finny shoals and myriads of the deep; When freezing tempests back to Greenland ride, And day and night the equal hours divide, True to the season, o’er our sea-beat shore, The sailing osprey high is seen to soar, With broad unmoving wing, and circling slow, Marks each loose straggler in the deep below; Sweeps down like lightning! plunges with a roar!

And bears his struggling victim to the shore.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2008

About the author: Gerald Haigh

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