Ospreys at the Oyster Bay Wildlife Refuge

Ospreys, Pandion haliaetus, are some of the bigger birds migrating to Long Island during their breeding season. In 1960s, ospreys were listed as endangered. One of the many victims of the extensive use of DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), one of the first synthetic insecticides used in agriculture. DDT directly did not kill most birds, however it led to thin and fragile egg shells, preventing hatching of millions of birds over the years. Although DTT was banned, its effects are still present in many areas of the United Stated and beyond.

Due to extensive preservation efforts, in 1999 ospreys’ status was downgraded to “Special concern,” which still strongly suggests that their battle for survival is not over.

As you enter the Oyster Bay Wildlife Refuge, ospreys will hover around the bay looking for food for their chicks. Ospreys in flight look majestic and free.

Due to habitat destruction, ospreys struggle to find safe nesting spaces. Their preference for high, solitary posts makes them prone to populate electricity poles, what is not only dangerous to the ospreys, but also to the residents. The electricity companies routinely relocate osprey’s nests. I cannot speak of the practice, nor its success, but a clear human vs nature situation emerged. In an effort to aid the situation, many artificial platforms were created in the area to serve as nesting spots.

The platforms I have seen are used extensively. All the ones I have seen were occupied by hungry chicks.

Many osprey nests are monitored with live webcams. As most nests are located very high off the ground, a good visual from the ground without binoculars is usually not possible.

This family chose a stadium light for its nesting location. Likely because the lights were taller than the man made nesting spots, or simply due to lack of other nesting locations.

Their ruffled feathers are a good indicator of the windy conditions.

As more ospreys repopulate the area, this issue will prevail. Rapid urbanization and swamp drying for construction in many of their breeding grounds, will further put many osprey families at risk for nest relocation.

Osprey parents are not taking their parental roles lightly. They have to constantly feed their chicks. You can spot a parent osprey on the nest for a few minutes, for it to be gone to look for more food. Constant back and forth. Their chicks are growing fast and demand an extensive time commitment to feed them. You can hear the chicks calling for food from a far distance.

An interesting part of ospreys’ anatomy are their feet. Contrary to other hawks, ospreys have zygodactyl feet, where 2 toes face forward and 2 toes face backwards. As a bonus, one toe can move forward when needed. This adaptation allows them to more easily catch slippery fish and grasp objects. A trait their share with owls and woodpeckers.

You an help preserve ospreys with simple tasks. Collect your trash when you go the the beach, ospreys and other birds are known to collect shiny plastic. Conserve water and use less plastic. You can start taking metal utensils to work.

Other birds will benefit from your efforts as they all share the same habitat.

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