Written By: Erin Tarmey
Osprey is a large raptor ranging from 20 – 24 inches long with a wingspan of up to 6 feet. They have the appearance of a dark mask and are known for a pronounced “necklace” of dark feathers. This species was all but extinct in Ohio and Indiana in the 1960s and 1970s (Thorn). After having almost disappeared completely, they are now making a huge comeback as efforts are being made to coexist with these fascinating creatures. By following a simple and cost-efficient guideline, we can provide safety, food, shelter, and stability for their species to help them thrive.
Osprey are found near large bodies of water, where they fly or hover to locate fish below the surface. Fish are 99.5% of their diet. They plunge in feet first, sometimes becoming completely submerged. What’s most interesting is the unusual opposable toe that can face forward or backward, similar to an owl. They have specialized barbs on the pads of their feet that allow for grip and their wing configuration gives them a great deal of lift to emerge from the water carrying a large catch. At the season’s end, these amazing raptors migrate 3.000 miles or more from breeding to wintering territories in South America. The annual return of nesting Osprey to breeding sites in Ohio ranges from March through May. Osprey mate for life, so you’ll often see the same pair year after year. Upon arrival, they begin to repair old nests or build new ones. Osprey nests are large stick structures often built in trees over water. Osprey produces 2-4 eggs each year and both parents alternate incubating for approximately 35 days. Males are responsible for most of the hunting in the early part of chick-rearing while females’ duties involve brooding and feeding. Chicks grow rapidly and can fly at only 8 weeks old. In fact, 2 to 3 weeks after learning how to fly, they’re already out hunting with dad. Young birds remain in South America until 2 or 3 years old when they may return to where they were born to search out their territories.
Ospreys will nest on many different types of structures as well as trees. These include buildings, cellular towers, utility poles, and (you guessed it!) construction equipment.
This is how the John R. Jurgensen Co. first came to know these birds and developed a working/living relationship with them in hopes of aiding their recovery in the state. Over a long weekend, workers returned to find that an osprey pair had built a nest in a piece of machinery that was needed for daily activities. At the time, these birds were considered a protected species, and the company was unable to relocate the nest until the end of the season. This prompted a discussion on what could be done to keep the birds off of active equipment without threatening their returns to the site. In other words, how can we keep operating while safely cohabitating with this rare species?
In an attempt to keep osprey safe and in the area, our employees installed utility poles and assembled wooden platforms to their tops. This provided a stable and safe placement of nesting materials that could be placed out of the way of daily operations and in a location where their activity could still be observed. Three separate poles were erected, with two of them having nests the following year and continuing to do so for approximately 15 years. To take our involvement one step further, we teamed up with Raptor, Inc, a nonprofit organization that comes to the site each year to tag the chicks before they leave for the south. Tracking the osprey provides data on distance, routes, and timelines of activity. Having been involved in this project for many years, we’ve been able to share field notes, data, and resources with our neighbors, including Oeder Sand & Gravel, who have erected their own pole and attracted their own osprey pair. Working with many organizations involved in conservation including the Millcreek Alliance, Little Miami Conservancy, and Raptor, Inc, offers us a chance to donate to our ecosystem and work to sustain it. By sharing personal experiences and tips with our community, we can ensure that all precautions are being taken to protect the osprey. This would include various amounts of tasks from keeping the nests off of utility poles where the birds are at risk of fire or electrocution, to installing aluminum sheets at the base of the poles to keep raccoons and other wildlife from climbing to the vulnerable young osprey.
Data has reflected that these contribution efforts have not been in vain. “Ohio’s osprey reintroduction program was started in 1996, and the goal was to have 20 nesting pairs by 2010. That goal was achieved in 2003, seven years ahead of schedule. Wildlife biologists reported 145 osprey chicks were produced from 110 nests (our nests included) throughout Ohio in 2019. With the number of breeding pairs steadily increasing over the past 15 years, ODNR Division of Wildlife has removed the osprey from the state’s threatened species list (Pleasant Hill Lake Park.)” In fact, they no longer meet the criteria for any of the categories relating to decline! This improvement is staggering considering where the statistics stood 60 years ago.
In recent years, John R. Jurgensen took their efforts yet another step further by installing a live feed camera on one of our osprey nests which were open to the public and used in some educational programs. After about a year, a time-lapse camera replaced this and captured incredible photos of not only the birds and their daily routines, but a stunning landscape and assortment of avifauna. Here we can see an up close and exceptional view into the nest itself. Not only does this satisfy the bird lovers’ curiosity, but it also helps us to track when the birds return, when eggs are laid and hatched, and when the birds depart.
Sharing information, working with our neighbors, providing distance and privacy to resident wildlife, and consciously making an effort to coexist safely and proactively with nature have shown abundant rewards. Efforts and ideas are ongoing for ways we can step in when it’s required and do our part to help when possible. Looking to the future, John R. Jurgensen has extended our reach to include beekeeping in an attempt to help rejuvenate the population and assist in one of the first live feed cameras on a bald eagle nest in Southwest Ohio. By staying involved we’re working to build a better world for our children and the flora and fauna that share our planet.
Osprey Facts and Info, Pleasant Hill Lake Park, https://pleasanthillpark.mwcd.org/park-info/osprey-and-bald-eagles-nesting/osprey-facts-and-info, accessed 12, February 2022.
Thorn, Rob. “Creature Feature: Osprey.” Columbus Audubon, https://columbusaudubon.org/creature-feature-osprey/, accessed 12 February 2022.
John R. Jurgensen would like to extend a special thanks to Erin Tarmey for leading the osprey conservation efforts and also writing this article!