2008-09-25 / Front Page

Raptor project hopes to tag two birds in the spring

By Eileen M. Daly

Rob Bierregaard holds a red hawk at Lawn Avenue School on Friday. Bierregaard visited the students as part of the Conanicut Island Raptor Project. He hopes to return to the island in the spring to tag two juvenile birds for the final phase of the migration study. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten Rob Bierregaard holds a red hawk at Lawn Avenue School on Friday. Bierregaard visited the students as part of the Conanicut Island Raptor Project. He hopes to return to the island in the spring to tag two juvenile birds for the final phase of the migration study. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten The students at Lawn Avenue School had a special winged visitor, a red hawk, last week in connection with the Conanicut Island Raptor Project's latest fund-raising project.

The Conanicut Island Raptor Project teamed up with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte) to hold a series of fundraisers last week to raise money for a satellite to track osprey migration. Rob Bierregaard, a researcher at UNC Charlotte, has been studying osprey migration for the past nine years. The study is due to close next year.

Bierregaard and Conanicut Island Raptor Project Chairman Chris Powell hope to raise at least $6,000 to purchase a satellite for one or more of the ospreys due to be born next spring in the osprey nest at Marsh Meadows. "We'd like to have at least one of the Marsh Meadow's osprey in our graduating class," Bierregaard said.

Two adult osprey at Marsh Creek share a perch. Photo courtesy of the Conanicut Island Raptor Project Two adult osprey at Marsh Creek share a perch. Photo courtesy of the Conanicut Island Raptor Project "The focus of this phase of the study will be on June ospreys," Bierregaard said. "We'd like to know where they go and how they get there."

According to Bierregaard, the first trip ospreys take to the south lasts a year and a half. "It is an important migration because the birds pick a place that they return to year after year," he said. "We'd like to know the factors that go into making this important choice."

According to Bierregaard, previous research has tracked some of the migratory pattern of the ospreys as they travel nearly 4,000 miles to Florida, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and finally South America.

Researchers are interested in the ecology of the areas the osprey choose for migration, Bierregaard said. "If those areas are over-fished for example, it may be dangerous for the osprey."

Osprey numbers declined drastically in the late 1950's and early 1960's. New England bird numbers were particularly poor at the time, Bierregaard said. Researchers conducted a study where eggs from osprey in Connecticut were placed under osprey in Maryland and eggs from osprey in Maryland were placed under osprey in Connecticut. The Connecticut birds were able to hatch the Maryland eggs, but the Maryland birds were unable to hatch the Connecticut eggs. This gave researchers their first indication that the problem lay in the eggs, Beirregaard said.

Further studies led to researchers concerns regarding the pesticide Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (DDT,) and its effect on Osprey eggs. DDT made its way into the food chain and as the chemical traveled upwards it became increasingly toxic. Larger animals were, therefore, exposed to the highest levels of the chemical and, according to Bierregaard, chemical toxicity resulted in the thinning of osprey eggshells. This interfered with the birds' ability to reproduce.

The Environmental Defense Fund, founded in 1967 in Long Island, New York, took on the fight to ban DDT, Bierregaard said. Much to everyone's surprise, the Environmental Defense Fund won and DDT was banned throughout the United States.

Since that time the ospreys have made a dramatic recovery and the number of bald eagles and peregrine falcons has also increased, Bierregaard said.

The Conanicut Island Raptor Project received a $2,000 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation to bring Bierregaard here, Powell said. Together they have conducted informative presentations at Lawn Avenue School and at the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown to raise awareness.

A series of fundraisers have been held to support research, but more funds are needed. Anyone interested in learning more about the Conanicut Island Raptor Project or in making a donation can visit their Web site at www.conanicutraptors. com. There, visitors will find links to the webcam that is placed in the osprey nest at Marsh Meadows. The camera will be active during the spring and summer when viewers can observe the birds live. Donations may be made through the "How you can help" link.

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