By Terri Estes

The Osprey, also known as the Sea Hawk, is a fish-eating bird of prey. This large raptor has a body length of around 21 to 24 inches and a wingspan of approximately five to six feet. Male ospreys are slightly smaller than females with a weight range of 2.5 to 4.5 lbs., while females typically weigh between 3 to 4.6 lbs. Ospreys have a distinctive brown and white plumage, with a brown back and wings, a white belly and head, and a brown stripe through the eye. They have hooked beaks and sharp talons, which they use to catch and hold onto fish.

Ospreys are a migratory bird. The Ospreys in our area migrate to Central and South America, with some traveling as far as Argentina. During migration, Ospreys typically follow the coastlines and fly over open water, where they can find their preferred food source of fish. Ospreys mate for life but travel back and forth to wintering grounds alone and on different schedules, and don’t spend winters together. They just meet up at the same nest each spring. They typically take between 20 to 30 days to travel the roughly 3,000 miles between here and South America.

Ospreys have made a huge comeback in our area. Between 1950 and 1975, nearly 90% of the population was lost due to the use of the pesticide DDT. A side effect of the chemical was a thinning of the eggshells. This caused the adults to crush the eggs as they tried to incubate them. As a result, Ospreys nearly became extinct in New York State. After DDT was banned in 1972, the Osprey population in the area slowly began to recover. The population has gone from less than 150 breeding pairs on all of Long Island in the 1970s to more than 2,000 breeding pairs on Long Island today. The densest population is on Eastern Long Island, but according to the National Park Service, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is home to over 30 active Osprey nests.

Ospreys often use a variety of materials in their nests including sticks, grasses and seaweed. The same pairs reuse their nests from year to year, adding more materials and repairing any damage that may have occurred. Over time, the nests can become quite large, with some nests reaching up to six feet in diameter and weighing several hundred pounds. The Ospreys take great care in building and maintaining their nests, as they are an essential part of providing a safe and secure place to lay their eggs and raise their young. Once the Osprey young fledge, they use their nest as a home base while learning how to survive. Both male and female Osprey take part in raising and teaching the fledglings. These young birds migrate a little later than their parents and when they return to this area, they usually return within 10 to 50 miles of their birth site, but most likely will never see their parents again.

This majestic bird’s resurgence in our area is truly a sign of good health in our local ecology. Keep your eye out for this soaring beauty in the skies above. It is no longer an uncommon sight, and they are truly breathtaking!

Please share your pictures of local Ospreys with the Rockaway Times.

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