Our Osprey Story.

This feature was prompted by a series of photographs taken by website member Nelson as he observed the birds at Stone Harbor, New Jersey, during June / August 2012.


The Osprey Pandion haliaetus is a fish eating raptor found on all continents with the exception of the Antarctic. In the UK it breeds in Scotland but is not very common elsewhere. Birders in the UK go to the Lake District Osprey Project or to Rutland Osprey Project where there are viewing facilities. If they are feeling lazy they go on line to these links to see live camera pictures.

For many people the classic view is of the Osprey perched on an exposed branch in a very tall tree (right). This one was photographed by Robert D on the River Tarcoles during a birding trip to Costa Rica. Ospreys tend to favour coastal regions, inland lakes and reservoirs, rivers and mangrove swamps. Although they usually nest in tall trees they have been known to build nests on communication towers.

New Jersey Osprey Project.

This project began after the Osprey was listed as an endangered species in 1973. In 1974 a survey was conducted to count the number of active Osprey nests from Toms River to Atlantic City - only 5 active nests were found. Ten years earlier there had been over 50 in that same area. Prior to 1950, over 500 Osprey nests were found along the New Jersey coastline. The decline is blamed on the heavy use of DDT in the 50’s and 60’s.


Efforts to recover the Osprey population began following the 1974 survey. Biologists built and installed structures in and along coastal marshes to replace trees which had been lost to development. They erected stands and posts topped by platforms at various places in the water and on the marshland.

Nelson took the photograph (left) to show the idea - the nest on the right has a female and 3 chicks in it. The male is usually found on the stand (on the left in the photograph) - unless he's "gone fishing".

The project has been extremely successful - today (2012) there are over 500 nesting pairs. They catch fish in the fresh or brackish water of Stone Harbor using their talons.


Birding by boat.

Nelson is never happier than when he is fishing. He lives in a good place to indulge his interest and it brings an added bonus. Sitting quietly in a boat on the water is an ideal way to go birding. The birds are used to seeing boats on the water so you can get quite close to the birds without disturbing them.

In the area he lives there are 8 or 9 nesting pairs. He has been following three pairs. Nests 1 and 2 are located behind the Wetlands Institute in the marshes adjacent to Scotch Bonnet Creek. Nest 3 is in the marshes off the Inland Waterway just south-east of South Basin".

One of his early photographs (right) shows the male above the nest in which two chicks along with the female bird. It looks like a pretty safe place for the chicks to be born.

Although the chicks might be vulnerable to attack by other birds of prey I guess the Osprey parents are robust enough to drive anything else away. Gulls have been known to predate Osprey chicks - in fact in one of Nelson's photographs (not shown here) the feet of a Gull can be seen behind an adult Osprey as it flies into the nest.

Development of the Osprey chicks.


Breeding Ospreys typically have a clutch of 2 to 4 eggs which are laid within one month. They are then incubated for about five weeks until they hatch. After hatching they hopefully fledge in 8 to 10 weeks.

The chicks in Nelson's photograph (above, right) are clearly still quite small - possibly two weeks old. Another photograph (left) taken on 1st August at one of the other nests, shows an adult with three small chicks.

Keeping all these chicks in food while they are fledging is quite a big effort for the adult birds. Nelson estimated that they were providing about 6 pounds (just under 3kg) of fish to each nest every day.


This time the occupants of the nest were on reduced rations - but "half a fish is better than no fish at all" (right) so I expect they were all very glad to see the male Osprey "bringing home the dinner" (below, left).


The Stone Harbor, Wetlands Institute actually have the classic shot of an Osprey which has just snatched a fish from the water.

In the image they show the bird has gone one step further than Nelson's bird and caught one fish with each foot. Clearly a hungry bird and very clever as well. Click on http://wetlandsinstitute.org/education/osprey-camera.

Nelson is still having a great time watching and photographing these birds as they develop - so the story is not over yet - watch this space to see more about these great birds.

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