As summer kicks into full swing in the tristate area, many birds become more difficult to find. Along our coastlines and waterways, most shorebirds have gone further north to breed or remain localized in breeding colonies.
The Osprey, however, is common throughout the summer months, and can be easily soaring high above almost any large body of salt or fresh water. This magnificent black and white bird has a nearly worldwide distribution, but it's never found far from a steady supply of fish, upon which it feeds almost exclusively.
When Ospreys arrive in our area in the spring, they quickly begin constructing large, messy nests in a prominent location close to water. One can often see nests perched atop platforms specifically designed for this purpose, looking like out-of-place telephone poles.
The Osprey’s loud whistling calls, surprisingly high-pitched and piercing for such a large bird, is a common sound along the region’s coastline for much of the summer. Occasionally, a lucky observer will see an Osprey plunge into the water and emerge with a fish, tightly gripped in specially-designed talons.
Given the Osprey’s current abundance in the area, it's difficult to believe that not long ago this species was struggling for survival in America. Since colonial times, Ospreys were shot along with other hawks as potential livestock predators, despite the fact that Ospreys rarely feed on anything but fish.
Additionally, in the mid-20th century the insecticide DDT wreaked havoc on the Osprey’s reproductive cycle, causing eggshells to be thin and unnaturally fragile. Since the banning of these harmful chemicals, Ospreys have slowly made a comeback despite the rapid development of waterfront habitat.
Fortunately, Ospreys seem to ignore man’s presence, and have even been known to build nests on light poles at baseball fields. As summer rolls along, be sure to keep an eye skyward for these once again common birds of prey.
William Haffey is currently a seminarian for the Diocese of Bridgeport, and has a background in avian ecology and has birded extensively in the United States and Latin America.
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