Spring is here – and so are the Ospreys (soon!)
It’s that time of the year again. April has arrived and the warmer weather is slowly melting the snow away. The Ospreys left their winter homes in Central and South America several weeks ago and should arrive in New Hampshire any day now!
This marks the 11th year we’ll be watching the Ayer’s Island Ospreys soar through the sky and raise another family. The adults first arrived in 2004. The same adult pair returned and successfully raised their first two chicks. They continued returning to the nest every year up until 2013. From 2005 to 2012, they successfully raised more than a dozen offspring.
2013 was a difficult year for the Ayers Island osprey nest. The same female returned to the nest but the male didn’t. As a result, several males fought for the affections of the female and control of the nest throughout the season. Because of all the turmoil, the female was unable to successfully incubate the many eggs she laid.
This is clearly a much sought after nest, so it will be interesting to see which ospreys occupy the nest during Spring 2014.
You are invited to stop by often to watch the birds as they settle in for another summer and prepare their nest for another family.
Barring severe weather or technical complications, click on this link to view the OspreyCam Online!
|Ayers Island Fledglings
View our Picture Gallery to see photos from a past season.
PSNH Osprey Project: A Natural Partnership
In the spring of 2004, two juvenile ospreys arrived at Public Service of New Hampshire's (PSNH) hydroelectric station at Ayers Island in New Hampton, NH. A tall structure overlooking the hydro plant and the Pemigewasset River provided an attractive site for their nest; however, the structure also served as an anchor for a cable car used to do repair work on the dam.
PSNH recognized that it would be best for the ospreys to find a more permanent, out-of-the-way location for the nest. In October, 2004, after the birds had flown south for the winter, representatives from PSNH, the Audubon Society of New Hampshire, and the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department transferred the nest to a de-energized pole 50 feet away.
Apparently, the ospreys didn't mind the change in address! The next spring, the pair returned and successfully produced two chicks, and osprey have been returning to the nest ever since.
Working in partnership with the Audubon Society of New Hampshire, PSNH installed the Osprey LiveCam at the Ayers Island nest in 2006 to help educate people about these magnificent birds of prey, and to share an incredible bird-watching experience with viewers throughout the state and around the world. The camera provides live, streaming video of the nest through the Osprey Online website.
The osprey, along with other bird species, became endangered in the 1950s and 60s, when widespread use of DDT and other pesticides contaminated the aquatic food chain. Feeding on fish exposed to DDT, the osprey laid eggs with abnormally thin shells that broke under the weight of the nesting adults. Successful reproduction became nearly impossible. By 1980, there were only three active osprey nests in New Hampshire—a former stronghold for osprey populations.
A Helping Hand
While the use of DDT had been banned in the United States in 1972, the few osprey left in the state in 1980 were still struggling with poor breeding and slow population growth. Studies done by the Audubon Society of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department suggested that raccoons and other predators were robbing osprey nests of eggs and chicks. Metal predator guards were installed around the trunks of nesting trees to prevent raccoons from climbing to the nests, and osprey nesting success began to increase.
By 1999, there were 22 active osprey nests and 28 young fledged in New Hampshire, with the species inhabiting two of the state's five major watersheds. The osprey were slowly making headway in the Granite State, but they still had a ways to go. In 2000, Project Osprey was launched by the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department, PSNH, and the Audubon Society of New Hampshire to work toward a full recovery of the state-threatened bird of prey, and to promote greater overall public awareness of the importance of healthy ecosystems to support wildlife populations.
A Natural Partnership
As the state's largest electric utility, PSNH had long been a partner in osprey recovery by providing crews and equipment to erect man-made nesting platforms for the osprey. Project Osprey took this natural partnership to the next level, allowing collaborators to install 15 more nesting platforms, critical for attracting osprey into new areas of the state. PSNH also provided $95,000 in funding for the five-year project, enabling wildlife biologists to focus on the recovery effort with renewed vigor.
A Record-Setting Season
By 2005, six years after Project Osprey began, osprey numbers had doubled in New Hampshire. Setting new highs for the post-DDT era, osprey occupied 43 active nests, produced 62 young, and settled in four of New Hampshire's major watersheds in 2005.
Off the Endangered and Threatened Species List
On September 20, 2008, the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department removed the osprey from its list of Endangered and Threatened Species. Prior to this action, the osprey were listed as a "threatened species."
PSNH funding for Project Osprey officially ended in 2004, but the long-term effects of the program continue to help this formerly threatened species regain its footing in the state. Nesting structures built and maintained by PSNH are expected to get more and more use as the osprey population grows throughout the state. PSNH crews will also continue to move nests from potentially dangerous sites near power lines, and osprey monitoring will carry on in southeastern New Hampshire—under the leadership of the staff at the Sandy Point Discovery Center—by the Great Bay Osprey Stewards. The Audubon Society of New Hampshire continues to receive site observation reports and to promote osprey education through a number of initiatives.
The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a large raptor that feeds exclusively on live fish. Ospreys are dark brown on the back and white on the belly and chest. The head is mostly brown with a distinct, dark stripe across the eyes. Although closely related to hawks and eagles, they are unique among raptors—possessing owl-like feet and wings that bend in flight like a gull—and the sole member of the genus Pandion and family Pandionidae. The osprey can be found on every continent except for Antarctica, and they look the same all over the world.
Scientific Name: Pandion haliaetus
Nickname: Fish Hawk
Wingspan: 4.5 – 6 feet
Weight: 2.5 – 4 pounds
Size: About 2 feet tall
Appearance: Dark brown on back, white belly and chest
Speed: Up to 40 mph in flight; 80 mph in dive
Incubation Period: Approximately 30 days
Lifespan: 20 – 25 years
Territory: Can be found in every continent except Antarctica
Food Sources: A variety of fish
Osprey eggs are about the size of chicken eggs, and they range in color from off-white to pinkish with cinnamon-colored splotches. A female osprey will generally lay 2 to 4 eggs over the course of a few days. Eggs will incubate for about 30 days before hatching.
Covered in down and weighing only two ounces when they hatch, osprey chicks will begin to grow feathers almost immediately, and will be ready to test their wings within 5 to 7 weeks. Chicks are hatched with brownish, reddish, or orange-tinted eyes, which change as they mature to a bright yellow color.
The osprey grows to be about 2 feet long in adulthood, with a wingspan of 4.5 to 6 feet. Adults generally weigh 2.5 to 4 pounds, with females tending to be slightly larger than males. While they normally top out at around 30 – 40 miles per hour in flight, ospreys are capable of reaching 80 mph in steep dives while hunting fish.
Breeding pairs of osprey usually form a life-long bond. Ospreys most often breed near freshwater lakes. Both the male and the female will tend to the eggs, although the female does most of the incubation. Once the eggs are laid, the female no longer hunts, and the male must supply all of the food.
Osprey nests are among the largest built by any bird. Measuring at least 3 feet deep and 5 feet across, osprey nests are built primarily of sticks, with softer materials like bark, moss, or grass lining the inside. Ospreys locate their nests high off the ground—in trees, rocky outcrops, or on utility poles. Usually, ospreys return to the same nests every year, building the structure up over time.
Hunting & Feeding
The osprey are expert hunters, well-adapted to catching live fish. Locating their prey from the air, ospreys will sometimes dive more than 100 feet, pulling up at the last moment before plunging feet-first into the water to capture a fish. Sometimes going completely underwater, the osprey has unique nostrils that close to keep out water. Their heavily muscled legs, powerful wings, and strong feet allow them to catch and fly off with fish up to three feet below the surface of the water! As the osprey rises in flight, it will grasp the fish firmly with two claws facing forward and two facing back. Adult ospreys are capable of carrying fish that equal their own size.
Osprey arrive in New Hampshire in April and stay for the summer and early fall. In September, they head south to spend the winter months in Central and South America. While migrating, ospreys will usually travel during the daytime, only occasionally traveling by night.
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