Like an old fashioned barn raising, about 15 volunteers with the Bayshore Regional Watershed Council came together on a clear but chilly Sunday morning in late March to raise a wooden nesting platform for Ospreys, a state threatened species in New Jersey and a species of special concern in New York State. The bird is commonly called a fish hawk, because 99 percent of their diet is fresh fish and it’s the only raptor in the world that can plunge in the water up to three feet to capture a fish.
For these bundled up volunteers, the goal was not to go bird-watching, but to fix one nesting platform damaged by former storms and install a new nesting platform in the wetlands of Union Beach, NJ, a small bayside community located downstream from New York City.
Volunteers at times were ankle deep in mud and muck as they moved a 25-foot oak tree topped by a by a 3-by-3-foot platform to the middle of a marsh. The platform was fixed firmly, but about 300 pounds, and made from recycled wood damaged by Super-storm Sandy.
Volunteers were racing an incoming tide as they moved the heavy platform over creeks and shrubbery to the open site. Then they quickly used a post hole digger and shovels to dig a deep hole, about four feet deep.
The group installed an identical pole and platform about 200 feet away in the same marsh. It proved to be successful last year. Adult Ospreys raised a pair of juvenile Ospreys. If you build it, they will come.
Today volunteers with the watershed council were putting up their sixth nesting platform. The goal has remained the same. Ospreys are returning and in need of nesting platforms. Nesting platforms are critical for attracting Ospreys into new areas to spread out the distribution so they're not all concentrated in one region.
These majestic raptors with their distinctive stick-built nests on nesting platforms depend on a healthy and abundant food supply. Since their diet consists primarily of fish, Osprey activities in the Bayshore region provide a good indication of water quality and the general health of Raritan Bay & Sandy Hook Bay.
Ospreys were declared endangered by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife in 1974 when the number of nests plummeted to 50 from a high of 500 in 1950. The birds were elevated to threatened status in 1984 when the number of nests had more than doubled to 108. Today, there are more than 475 nesting pairs of Ospreys in New Jersey. In the Bayshore region of Monmouth and Middlesex counties, there were over 20 active Osprey nests in 2014 and they gave birth to around 23 young.
Ospreys usually start to return to New York Harbor soon after St. Patrick’s Day from their winter home in the tropics. The need to breed is strong. The hawks often travel 100 to 200 miles a day to return to ar nest site in about 2 weeks. Typically, Osprey couples will stay together for life, returning to the same location to breed and raise a family.
It takes a lot or work and a lot of hands to raise a nesting platform in hopes of attracting another mating pair this spring. Along with volunteers from the Bayshore Watershed Council, help was given by Union Beach Department of Public Works. Everyone is now anxious to welcome a new feathered family near Raritan Bay.
For more information about the Bayshore Watershed Council and to become a member, check out their webpage at www.restoreourbay.org. Membership is free.
For more information, pictures and year-round sightings of wildlife in or near Sandy Hook Bay and Lower New York Bay, please check out my blog entitled, Nature on the Edge of New York City at http://www.natureontheedgenyc.com