2018-04-05 / Front Page

SPRINGING INTO ACTION

OSPREYS ARRIVE FROM SOUTH AMERICA
BY TIM RIEL

The female osprey is covered in snow on Monday at Marsh Meadows 48 hours after returning from her winter-long migration to tropical South America.PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN The female osprey is covered in snow on Monday at Marsh Meadows 48 hours after returning from her winter-long migration to tropical South America.
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN
Mother Nature played a belated April Fools’ joke Monday when she dropped an inch of snow onto ospreys that returned home from tropical South America just 48 hours earlier.

The pair at Marsh Meadows arrived following their 3,000-mile journey north, which they take annually to circumvent the winter weather. According to Chris Powell, a retired state biologist, birds also have returned to their nests at Fox Hill Farm, Windmist Farm, Beaverhead Farm, Beavertail State Park and Lawn School. Other sites with osprey platforms include South Pond and Dutch Island Lighthouse.

During 2017, seven osprey couples bred successfully, according to the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. The 11 fledglings were five fewer than the past season. Statewide, there were 226 ospreys hatched from 274 monitored nests, which included 121 active nests.


The pair of raptors did enjoy a sunny Saturday back at their nest. 
PHOTO BY CHRIS POWELL The pair of raptors did enjoy a sunny Saturday back at their nest. PHOTO BY CHRIS POWELL “Ospreys have recovered so well in Rhode Island that many birders consider sightings ho-hum,” Audubon conservation director Scott Ruhren said. “Such is the price of becoming common. Still, many of us never tire of watching ospreys hunt, build massive nests in some improbable places, and rear their offspring.”

Last year’s nine active nests were the most in 61 years. While there were 13 active nests in 1956, every single osprey departed by 1965 because of the chemical pesticide DDT. It wasn’t until 2001 that they returned to the island.

The monitoring program was initiated in 1977 by the state Department of Environmental Management and oversight was passed to the Audubon in 2010. The goal is to carefully follow the osprey population as it recovered from the effects from DDT, which was used during the mid-20th century. Although the pesticide was banned in 1972, the chemical still had a negative impact on the raptor population. In 1976, ospreys were designated as an endangered species. The first statewide count yielded only 12 active nests. Before DDT, it was estimated there were more than 1.000 nests between Boston and New York during the 1940s.

According to Powell, the healthy winged residents signal the arrival of spring and the departure of summer. The ospreys leave Rhode Island in September and October en route to South America, mainly Brazil and Venezuela. They return to town the following year in late March or early April to breed, carefully coordinating their migration with the arrival of the appetizing river herring. When the food supply starts to run dry in the fall, they head back south, but leave their offspring behind.

The juveniles fly south on their own with a tremendously high mortality rate — about 80 percent fail their first migration. If they do succeed in reaching South America, the birds remain there for a few years until they are sexually mature.

Powell, who chaired the town conservation commission for 27 years, administers the Conanicut Island Raptor Project. Among their services, the website streams a live feed of the nest at Marsh Meadows.

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