Operation Osprey: 3.27.2023

Published: March 27, 2023

What’s The Ruckus In The Trees?… It’s Songs of Osprey Nesting and Mating 

      

Osprey Date 3.27.23The sound of ospreys screeching in the distance prompted our water quality team (Boat Captain, Steve Small, and SRA Project Officer, Tom Guay) to take a peek inside Lake Ogleton in late March to see what the ruckus was all about. 

Turns out the osprey weren’t screeching. They were singing love songs to get reacquainted after their (separate) winter vacations in South America. During a slow survey of the coastline inside Lake Ogleton, Tom and Steve found nearly a dozen osprey reclaiming and rebuilding their nests. 

Most osprey prefer the safety high up in the trees. Our team counted 6 pairs adding sticks to their nests in the tallest trees scattered in the Bay Ridge, Annapolis Roads and the Anchorage communities. 

Late March turns out to be a great time to locate and chart osprey tree nests. 

Their large, stick-built nests stand out nicely against the cloudy sky (image at left) before the trees leaf out. Their tree nests are hard to see once the shorelines turn green with heavy foliage. 

And, high above the treeline, a pair of osprey were entangled in their sky dance mating ritual. Meanwhile, two other love birds were wrapping up the morning’s mating session on a tree limb near their waterfront nest (image right). Turkey vultures are perched to the right of the osprey. 

After a few moments, the female returned to the nest (image at top) and the male remained perched on a tree limb nearby. Except for delivering sticks and fish to the nest for a meal, the male rarely stays in the nest. His job is to hunt and provide and then he rests while perching nearby.

There are only two man-made platforms for osprey and they were built offshore, not on any of the scores of piers inside Lake Ogleton. Both had the remains of stick nests from the 2022 season.  

But on this day, they were unoccupied by osprey. Instead, some geese had claimed these platforms. This can spell trouble for the osprey family because taking time to evict the geese interlopers is time the osprey don’t have. 

It is important for osprey reproductive success to get to work rebuilding their nest and mating as soon as possible. A week’s delay trying to reclaim their nest means a delay in mating and their chicks will be born later in spring or early summer.  Delays like these mean the young osprey have less time to be ready to fledge by the end of July (Image below right).

This early investigation of osprey nesting was a prelude to securing grant funding from BGE and The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race to create Operation Osprey, a scientific and educational program managed by the Severn River Association. 

Operation Osprey will produce the first-ever chart of osprey nests in the Severn River and an annual inventory of osprey living along our shores. Operation Osprey includes a community outreach and an educational component that will give students and volunteers the opportunity to study the link between osprey population and food availability (osprey only eat fish), and other life cycle connections that affect the osprey and their habitat.

 

The osprey have rebounded since they disappeared from the Severn River in the 1970s due to DDT exposures. However, these iconic raptors of the Chesapeake now face new threats – from stormwater runoff pollution, climate change, development pressures and overfishing – that could disrupt their food supplies and habitat. Any dip in their population is a canary in the coal mine warning that something untoward is happening that needs to be addressed. 

For more information, contact SRA’s Program Officer, Tom Guay, at taguay@severnriver.org