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Osprey make a big comeback in New York

Ellie George, Paradox Lake, NY
Osprey "bringin' it all back home."

If you’re been anywhere near a lake or a river this summer, you may have seen a big white bird diving into the water to catch fish. Ospreys have made a big comeback. But for many years, the bird was threatened. On Wellesley Island, for example,  Ospreys  are everywhere.

I’m in a truck with DEC wildlife technician Blanche Town. We’re driving around the island, pointing out Osprey nests scattered atop almost every power line. Town is telling me about the time she got a call from a homeowner on Butterfield Lake in Redwood. An Osprey had built a nest on his roof and he was concerned and didn't know what to do.  

“I met him out there and it was great. He was like, 'Oh, it didn’t attack us or anything.' And I was like 'no, no, they’re fine,'” Town said.

Town says Osprey love nesting on anything that's high enough to give them a 360-degree view of their surroundings. And they’re fine living nearby humans.

“And he actually spent the summer living with this Osprey a few feet over his head. It was a one story cabin. And he said what they were primarily feeding on snakes in that location. And he wasn’t too fond of snakes.”

If you lived in the North Country in the middle of the 20th century, it was rare to spy an Osprey here. In New York, they were largely found on Long Island and in the Adirondacks. Back then, The pesticide DDT was widely sprayed on crops. DDT had the adverse effect of thinning out the shells of birds’ eggs.  The Osprey population took a big hit. But, in 1972, DDT was banned. Slowly, the birds came back.

Credit Don Polunci
Osprey Attack

“Since the 1970’s, the population has just been growing back and expanding to the point that we see now,” Town said.

It wasn’t until 1991 that the first Osprey nest was spotted in the Thousand Islands. Mike Bromley runs a u-fish trout farm on Wolfe Island. He says Ospreys discovered his trout-filled pond a few years ago.

“At one point two years ago there we had three pairs of Osprey regularly coming to the pond. We had people just standing at the pond just watching what was going on. I joked that the Ministry of Natural Resources was going to come and fight me for causing obesity in them,” Bromley said.

But Bromley admits as much as he hates to see his fish fall prey to the Osprey, part of him likes watching them hunt.

“I would say their success rate is about 80 percent, more than any other winged predator. If you ever want to come by and watch money fly away.”

Back on Wellesley Island, Town and I park a truck under one electric pole where on top, twigs spill out of a big nest. Town says Osprey typically return to the same nest every year. In most places, that'll be on a tall structure like an electric poles or cell phone tower.

“People love Ospreys, people love them. And they get very concerned when they build their nests on a manmade structure. I get a lot of concerns and they are very concerned that the nests will be removed, they won’t be allowed to stay there."

Credit Rose Turner, Calcium NY
Osprey family on a shipping channel maker in the St. Lawrence River near Alexandria Bay.

Town says the DEC has agreements with different power and telecommunications companies. If there’s a problem with a nest, the companies will build wooden platforms underneath them. She says now’s the time, just after the birds fly south for the winter, when National Grid will start building those square wooden platforms underneath these nests here on Wellesley Island and other places. Right now, Ospreys are wintering as far as South America and the Caribbean. They’ll be back mid-April.