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New Home for Ospreys in Union Beach

Spring this year is making a slow, chilly start in the New York metropolitan region. Yet, increasing daylight, budding vegetation and thawed earth are signs that warmer weather is near.

Another sure sign is the sight of an Osprey, a large bird of prey, as it migrate thousands of miles from its winter home in South America back to Lower New York Bay, including Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay. These “fish hawks” are winged harbingers of spring and particularly welcomed this year after the region experienced a colder-than-average winter that brought with it a long series of snowstorms.

To help keep Ospreys happy, hardy, and coming back year after year is the need for a proper home to raise a family. In decades past, the birds would make a large nest of sticks constructed at the top of a large dead tree out in the open and not far from water. Today, due to over-development along the coast, sea level rise from global warming, and an increase in severe weather that has toppled many trees, a shortage exists of standing dead trees in wetlands and near water. A lot of natural opportunities to nest are not there anymore. Instead, nesting platforms and other man-made structures are commonly used.

It’s not always easy, however, for an adult Osprey to find a safe, stable, unused nesting spot. There can be a lot of competition once one is found.

 After heading for extinction in the 1960s due to several human activities, including the over-use of DDT, an organochlorine pesticide, Osprey populations are now on the rebound throughout the New York and New Jersey metropolitan region. Following the 1972 ban on the use of DDT in the United States, populations of Osprey have begun to increase. In some areas of the harbor estuary, current Osprey populations exceed pre-DDT era estimates.

As a result there may be a shortage of suitable nesting sites around Lower New York Bay. Fortunately for the Ospreys, there always seems to be a group of volunteers willing to help.  It just has to be done quickly, before the birds get back from their long migration.

Early last Saturday morning, about nine volunteers with the Bayshore Watershed Council, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to restoring water quality and wildlife habitat along Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay, worked  to install two new Osprey platforms in the Borough of Union Beach, NJ.

The hardest part for this group was not the installation, but transportation. Trudging through marshes and lugging a heavy platform to its location in the middle of a wetland was back-breaking work. But once up, it was all worth it. The platforms looked beautiful. The poles and nesting boxes were made from trees around the Bayshore region that were brought down during Super-storm Sandy.

The platforms were about 8 to 10 feet above the water with a 3- or 4-foot-square platform on top. The new platforms should last a good 15 years, unless floodwaters and harsh weather take their toll.

Volunteers with the watershed council in years past have also put up several platforms in Middletown Township. Many of those sites are occupied each year by nesting Ospreys. The platforms are placed in the middle of wetlands before Ospreys return to nest in March or early April and are monitored each season for overall nesting success. Platforms have been widely successful in attracting nesting Ospreys in coastal locations.

Putting up new nesting platforms will help provide habitat for Ospreys and to help keep these fish hawks from nesting on dangerous power  lines, which can electrocute the birds. The nesting platforms will also provide local residents, especially children, a chance to view and get to know local wildlife up close. It will be nice to see a family of Ospreys and little chicks being fed a fish from mom or dad.

The wait is on now to see how long it takes for a family of Ospreys to make a home here. It might occur this spring, but more likely in later years. It usually takes around five years for a pair of Ospreys to feel comfortable and safe enough to use a new platform. Yet, you never know! Already one Osprey was spotted checking out the new nest.

The return of Ospreys to Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay is one of the greatest conservation stories of the last 30 years. Thanks to everyone who helped provide a little more home and habitat for fish hawks to raise a family.

Much appreciation goes to Ronnie from Hazlet Township who did yeoman’s work in gathering the wood and building two new Osprey platforms. A first-class job!! Thanks also to Frank, James, Marissa and her dad, Kathleen, Maribeth, and to the father and son duo from Aberdeen Township. Gratitude to everyone for this wonderful team effort!

More information about the Bayshore Watershed Council can be found at their website.

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.

Christina Johnson March 24, 2014 at 08:02 AM
Thank you volunteers, and thank you Joe Reynolds for writing about this. I'll never look at a platform nest again without thinking about the people who put it there.
Carol Beckenstein March 24, 2014 at 10:56 AM
This is a magnificent gift to the Bayshore. Thanks you.

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