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Ospreys Return this Spring To Raise A Family

For the past dozen years or more, during the first full week of April, I have celebrated the return of spring to Sandy Hook Bay and Raritan Bay with an all-day Osprey count along the edge of the estuary. The fun usually begins around sunrise at Sandy Hook and concludes sometime before sunset at Great Kills Park along Raritan Bay in Staten Island. It’s a full day designed to see how many artificial nesting platforms or other structures, such as buoys and channel markers, have been recently occupied by a pair of Ospreys ready for a new breeding season.

The good news is that I counted a good many platforms and other structures busy with Osprey action, as they get ready to nest and start the propagation of new life in New York Harbor. I counted around 26 nesting sites.

The Ospreys, also known as “fish hawks,” have made the long winged migration from the tropics to Lower New York Bay to reunite with their partner for the annual chance to raise a family. It’s a grueling migration northward, not always quick or easy.

Recently, scientists with the National Park Service at Gateway National Recreation Area, as part of a two-year research project that began in May 2012 at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in New York, have outfitted an Osprey, named Coley II,  with a GPS pack in order to follow the bird on its annual migration. The good news is that Coley II made the long 2,700 mile journey from Lake Valencia in Venezuela to Jamaica Bay without a serious accident. It was a trip that took 20 days, beginning on March 16 and concluded on April 5th.

Yet, the outcome was not always so certain. Coley II was late in arriving back to Jamaica Bay, no one is sure why. When he did arrive, Coley II had to contend with another male Osprey that was trying to mate with his companion. It was an “interloper” trying to pair off with Coley II’s established mate, which had arrived earlier from the tropics. Even though Ospreys mate for life, they will take on another partner when their established mate dies or disappears. Each day that Coley II did not show up decreased the strength of the bond with his mate, making his mate more likely to accept the advances of another male.  Luckily, Coley II arrived just in time to befriend his old sweetheart and strengthen the pair bond once more. Another day or two and the outcome may have not been so pleasant.

Without question,  Osprey migration is not simple. Along the way, Ospreys may be shot at in some parts of their migratory range, particularly at fish farms in the Caribbean and South America. Electrocution is another threat to Ospreys around power-lines. Severe storms, strong winds and collisions with vehicles are also sources of demise.

If the birds survive, the fish hawks usually arrive sometime after St. Patrick’s Day. Longer daylight warms up local waters in New York Harbor and provides a favorable habitat. Spring rains discharge nutrients into the water, which help to create vast plankton populations and the algae to grow, which in turn help to feed small fish, which feed larger fish, which feed the Ospreys. Since an Osprey’s diet is almost exclusively live fish, it helps to have an abundance of food around.

Now that the birds are returning to the estuary, they are getting down to the serious business of mating and reproduction. First thing first, the female will make sure the male is still a worthy mate. She will begin a begging call for food in the nest with a series of sharp, shrill whistles. The male will show off his airborne skills by flying in a roller coaster pattern sometimes carrying a stick or a fish. What really matters to the female, though, is the male’s ability to provide food to her and her young.

If the courtship goes well, both male and female Ospreys will begin building the nest using twigs and branches, but also sometimes junk and litter, whatever is handy including parts of fishing nets, plastic bags, and fishing line. This is why it’s important to properly dispose of your trash, since litter inside an Osprey nest can be hazardous to young birds which can choke to death.

Once the nest is built, breeding and egg laying begin. The first egg should appear late April. They do one brood per year, generally one to two eggs, with three eggs to four eggs rare. The wait goes on to see new life in the bay.

Try to keep an eye on a nest site near you and watch the action as Ospreys around the estuary try to raise a family in one of the most urban and suburban coastlines in the world.

If you don’t live near a nest, you can always watch the action on an on-line Osprey camera. While there are no cameras over-looking an Osprey nest in Lower New York Bay (at least none that I know of) there are many on the web to watch. My personal favorite is an Osprey nest in south Jersey at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. The action can be seen at the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey’s website at http://www.conservewildlifenj.org/education/ospreycam/

For more information, pictures and year-round sightings of wildlife in or near Sandy Hook Bay, Raritan Bay, and Lower New York Bay, please check out my blog entitled, Nature on the Edge of New York City at http://natureontheedgenyc.blogspot.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

John Hayes April 15, 2014 at 02:55 PM
Thanks, Joe. Looking forward to seeing the ospreys in action over at MR.

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