The kids fight, the fish is fresh and the parents almost kiss beak to beak -- it's a 24/7 reality show on top of an old communications tower overlooking the Peconic Bay.
Two ospreys and their three chicks are flourishing in their twiggy household live from East Marion, 85 feet high, at ospreyzone.com. The private camera system, bolted over a man-made platform, has gone from jagged and limited last July to high-definition June 1.
About 10,000 viewers check in daily, in retirement homes, schools and other countries, the site's hosts said.
"Everybody's really getting hooked on them," said osprey "landlord" Tommy Aprea, 74, who has the tower in his yard. "People tell me they wake up in the morning, the first thing they do, they don't even put the coffee on. They go turn the computer on to see how they're doing."
The parents, George and Gracie, rearranged twigs Wednesday after Tuesday night's storm. At one point, one adult screeched long and loud; the other suddenly flew in with a headless fish. The chicks, hatched this month, ate themselves into a stupor, flopping onto their tummies, even the runt in the pack.
"When she screams ... before you know it, he's there with a fish," said Aprea, who once owned a commercial fishing fleet.
Every second of the new family has been caught on tape.
One hot day, an osprey flew in clumps of kelp or seaweed to wrap around the eggs -- air conditioning, Aprea thinks. Recently, fans' survival fears have calmed over the runt, born a week after its 3-week-old siblings, when it began scrabbling up to be fed.It's a world that opened beyond Aprea's inner circle when his longtime friend, business owner Paul Henry, 60, put everything online this month. Henry's company, Tax Reduction Services in Greenport, set up the live streaming website. "I've been losing sleep trying to keep this thing running," Henry said.
When the storm took out power in East Marion on Tuesday night, he ran out to check the birds because viewers were distressed to see winds rock the nest, blow off twigs and force "mom" to hunker down.
"Will stay awake till the cam is up again and I can see that they are AOK ," Patty commented on the website.
The live cam has exposed mystifying behavior even for two men who've been around ospreys for decades and will reach out to experts for answers. One hot day, Gracie put seaweed around the eggs. Another time, George placed a piece of an egg shell under his mate.
A filmmaker on the side, Henry intends to make a documentary with the stored footage: "We're really looking forward to going over the material and telling the story of this family."
The species has made a comeback after the 1970s DDT ban, going from endangered to "special concern," with 230 breeding pairs on the Island by 1995, the state said.
Two years ago, Aprea noticed ospreys screeching and looking down on him from the tower every time he took out the trash. "Maybe they want to build a nest," his wife told him.
So last July, he made a 4.5-square-foot wood platform. A pal welded it onto the tower. Minutes later, Aprea said, a neighbor called to say the birds were building a nest.
Now, Aprea and Henry want to turn osprey reality into a blockbuster and a conservation tool. They want it streaming in hospitals, schools and other places that need a bit of relaxing therapy or lessons on being compassionate to wildlife. They'd like chips on the chicks to track their travels once they fly the coop. They might even turn on infrared recording so the ospreys can been seen at night nesting.Said Henry, "We really think that George and Gracie are going to be Long Island's most talked about couple -- the First Couple of Long Island."
Aprea said he's excited about seeing the youngsters learn to fly. He's worried enough to think about setting up a safety net below, and he hopes once they fly off in winter, they'll return next year.
Said the osprey landlord: "I can never touch that nest or move it. That nest is there for as long as they live."