The Ospreys Are Coming Back

By Jennifer Keats Curtis
EVERY YEAR, just around St. Patrick’s Day, the Osprey, one of the most recognized birds on the Chesapeake Bay, makes its way back to our area.

Though the brown and white birds are often mistaken for eagles, the Osprey is smaller, its black bracelets (marks on its wrists), and crook in its wing as it flies clearly distinguishes it from other birds of prey, explains U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) Chesapeake Bay Field Office biologist Pete McGowan.

Sadly, in the early 1970’s, Ospreys, also known as Fish Hawks since they dine nearly exclusively on fish,  were nearly wiped out by the pesticide DDT. Fortunately, the birds have made a comeback since the pesticide was banned. Today, they are found on all continents except Antarctica, proudly perching on the sides of their huge nests of jumbled sticks. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Chesapeake, where the abundance of Osprey has led to the Bay being called the “Osprey Garden.” However, trash clearly poses a threat to the well-being of these magnificent birds.

McGowan, who has been studying Osprey for years with colleagues from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, believes that half, or more, of all Osprey nests on the Bay and surrounding rivers contain fishing line or similar cordage material. He encourages people to properly dispose of their fishing gear and debris and offers the following tips:

Safely stow or throw away any unused fishing line, tackle, and other trash so that birds and other animals will not become entangled in these materials. “Potential for entanglement is high,” notes McGowan, “And often causes injury or death.”

Recycle monofilament line when feasible. If fishing line is to be discarded, take it home and cut it into small pieces first; then dispose of it in a trashcan.

Do not throw any plastic—or pieces of plastic—into the water. If you find fishing line, balloon ribbon, kite string, rope, plastic, or other debris that may harm wildlife, dispose of it properly.–Bay Journal

EDITOR’S NOTE: This month, a new children’s book honoring McGowan’s contribution to the osprey launched. Osprey Adventure (Cornell Maritime Press, 2008) is the heartwarming tale of how a boy and his biologist father save an Osprey. Written by Jennifer Keats Curtis and illustrated by Marcy Dunn Ramsey, the book is based on McGowan’s work. Curtis, whose previous books include the ASPCA finalist Turtles In My Sandbox and MCTELA award winner Oshus and Shelly Save the Bay, helped McGowan perform a survey of nests on the Chester River andChesapeake Bay as part of her research. She says about half of the nests they viewed contained dangerous cordage. Osprey Adventure is available in bookstores and online. With “props” in hand, Curtis regularly visits area preschools and elementary schools to talk to children about Bay animals, Bay heroes, and what they can do to help them.