Return of the Osprey

Return of the Osprey
Finally, with some nice weather, I was able to actually go birding! I went to a national park called Gateway, located in Sandy Hook, NJ. I was hoping to see 300 sea ducks called scoters that had been spotted earlier in the week. Unfortunately, they were gone, but I did see one of my favorite birds, the osprey.

Ospreys are birds of prey also known as fish hawks. They are distinguished by their sideburn-like facial markings and the black-and-white pattern on the ventral (belly side) of their wings. They are noisy birds, often making a high-pitched cry. They are often found circling above a body of water for several minutes, before spiraling down to the water’s surface, where they will use their talons to catch a fish.

Ospreys nest on poles. In New Jersey, where I live, there are dedicated osprey poles in just about every natural area. There is even one next to a generator in the middle of the Hackensack River. If you are not familiar with this river, well, suffice it to say that it is not an idyllic spot of nature, but is surrounded by factories and industry. Apparently, the birds were originally nesting on the generator, but the electric company decided to build a pole for them for their own safety. Why birds, with the freedom of flight would choose to nest on something obviously so man-made is hard for me to fathom, but to them it looked like home, I suppose. The 2009 nest appeared to be healthy, at least according to a web site called “Project Osprey.” Hopefully, the 2010 chicks will be just as strong.

I have seen ospreys in many places, even where there are no nests. I’ve seen them behind a supermarket in Bayonne (also a very industrialized area of New Jersey), in a park in Jersey City, and atop a house in Maine. I’ve seen them in suburbs, in the country, above salt marshes and lakes. I’m still glad when I see one, but I’m not particularly excited. Although they are not ubiquitous like pigeons or robins, they are still one of the more common birds a birder might see, if he or she knows what to look for.

What is amazing is that anyone sees any ospreys at all.

In the middle part of the twentieth century, the osprey population was decimated by the pesticide DDT, which caused their eggshells to thin. I did not see any ospreys growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Even though I didn’t officially start birding until the 1990’s, these birds would be pretty hard to miss if they were around. And they were definitely not around.

Today, the conservation status of the osprey is “least concern” although they may still be on some local endangered or threatened lists. I find their comeback to be extremely heartwarming and uplifting.

We hear a lot of bad news about the environment, about storms that will destroy us due to global warming, or about cities that will soon be under water. The media doesn’t spend a lot of time reporting good news, and even environmental organizations often focus on the problems still to be solved rather than successes.

Despite the continuing problems, in many cases pollution is being decreased and species are making comebacks. The fact that I can visit a formerly endangered species living happily on a generator is just one example of the resiliency of Mother Nature.

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