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Observe, enjoy as ospreys return for nesting season

By Staff | Nov 26, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED An osprey prepares to dive for a fish.

It is that time of the year when the skies of Southwest Florida begin to be filled with the familiar cries and aerial acrobatics of the region’s iconic bird – the osprey.

“They’re coming back at least we hope they are,” Susan Tucker, president of The International Osprey Association based on Sanibel, said.

Ospreys return to the area in two waves. The first to arrive to their familiar nests are the non-migratory resident ospreys of the southern Florida coasts. They are followed one to two months later by the migrating population from its summer habitat on the rivers and lakes of South America. It is a timeless ritual dating back to the origin point of the osprey species 15 million years ago in North America.

But Tucker is concerned this year. Just as Floridians voted convincingly last fall for decisive action in favor of improving local water quality, so too did the ospreys. They voted en masse to abandon waters contaminated with blue-green algae, red tide and seemingly endless waves of dead fish. Ospreys are prime sentinels of water quality and their message was loud and clear. Evolution has finely tuned their reproductive systems not to produce chicks without the availability of adequate nourishment from healthy fish.

Tucker’s teams of two dozen nest watchers have been monitoring osprey nests since 1983. She reported that the nests of Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach have yielded an average of 120 fledged chicks annually over the last decade – a stark contrast with the 26 chicks fledged in the 2018-2019 season. Nesting season runs from approximately January to May, but the adults arrive earlier to claim and prepare nest sites.

PHOTO PROVIDED Ospreys are returning to the area to begin another nesting season.

Tucker urged those with an interest to watch the skies and local nests for the next several months. Ospreys live their lives in the public’s full view. They build their nests, mate, parent their young and train them to survive and thrive in an increasingly threatened ecosystem. Watching the fierce bird of prey delicately tear tiny strips of freshly caught fish and gently feed them to days old downy-feathered chicks, and also soar in spectacular aerial combat defending their nests and young against predatory eagles, is a privilege and high adventure.

Just as Tucker and her nest monitors will watch, she encourages the public to be citizen scientists, observing and enjoying. They’re coming back. Watch and listen. What will be the ospreys’ message to us this year?

James Schnell is a board member for The International Osprey Foundation. For more information, visit www.ospreys.com. To volunteer as a nest watcher or report a nest needing maintenance, contact tiof@outlook.com.