North American osprey populations are rebounding, and that’s good news for our waterways.
By Jeff DeQuattro, Director of Restoration for the Gulf of Mexico Program for The Nature Conservancy
Meet the osprey, the only North American raptor to live and thrive almost exclusively on a diet of live fish. Also known as the sea hawk or fish eagle, ospreys live near their aquatic prey and can be found along lakes and rivers, seacoasts and estuaries in every continent except Antarctica. Maybe you have seen this majestic bird yourself – soaring over shorelines or perched in a huge skyward nest piled with sticks and twigs.
But did you know that this familiar bird was once listed as endangered?
Ospreys rely almost completely on live fish for their diet (about 99%). Naturally, the health and success of osprey populations are very closely tied to the bodies of water where both they and their aquatic prey make their home.
Unfortunately, human activities took a toll on the osprey’s environment and population throughout much of the 20th century: pollution, degradation of waterways, increased pesticide use (including DDT, which caused eggshells to become dangerously thin), and hunting. The osprey was considered endangered for decades.
Thankfully, this is no longer the case.
Organizations such as The Nature Conservancy have worked hard using science-based methods to return these coasts and streams to the life-giving bodies of water they once were. Across the globe, the Conservancy is working with organizations and governments to protect and restore water quality, shorelines, and wildlife habitat.
Here in the Gulf of Mexico, the Conservancy is working on several coastal restoration projects, including one of the world’s largest oyster reef restoration projects and significant recovery work in the wake of the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The osprey is a commonly used indicator species, so when we see ospreys consistently in an area or evidence of successful breeding, we know that nearby waterways are healthy enough to harbor good fish populations – the osprey’s major food source.
One particular breeding pair, affectionately named Josie and Elbert, have shown us that our activities in the Gulf are working. The pair have returned to their nest in Orange Beach, Alabama for the past four years. Our OspreyCam has been keeping a watchful eye over this pair. We’ve seen some touching moments and many hair-raising ones, including extremely high winds, a bird-poop white-out of the camera, and the successful fledging of three years of chicks!
Josie and Elbert are back again this year with three new chicks, plus a new camera angle and the addition of sound. Here’s to another healthy brood of osprey chicks and the successful return of one of Mother Nature’s coastal guardians!