, Salem, MA

March 3, 2014

Our view: Return of osprey bodes well for region

The Salem News

---- — Ospreys are making a comeback in Essex County, and that’s good news for the rest of us, as well.

Twenty-six pairs of the once-endangered birds of prey were spotted across the region last year, according to a report by the Essex County Greenbelt Association. That’s up from 18 in 2012, 14 in 2011 and 11 in 2010.

“The population has really expanded quickly and dramatically,” Dave Rimmer, Greenbelt’s director of stewardship, told reporter Tom Dalton recently. “The birds that are nesting here are successfully raising their young, and those young are returning back here to nest.”

The osprey population suffered dramatically beginning in the 1950s, as widespread, unregulated pesticide use weakened osprey eggshells. Once curbs in chemical use were put in place in the late 1970s, the bird began to mount a slow recovery.

That recovery bodes well for humans, Rimmer said, noting that ospreys “are an indicator of the health of a coastal ecosystem.” Given how many of us live near the coast and rely on the water to make a living, a healthy osprey population is a good sign.

Locally, the improvement came with significant help from Greenbelt. The association has built more than a half-dozen wooden platforms for use as homes for the birds’ large stick nests and has repaired and looked after nest structures “throughout the Great Marsh from Salisbury to Gloucester to Marblehead,” according to the report.

The recovery has not been easy, as the 2013 report notes: “Most pairs were observed incubating through May and into June. Some nesting attempts failed in May and others in June, resulting in nest abandonment in many, but not all, cases. One pair stayed on the nest until August after losing their only chick in early June.”

Last spring, Greenbelt launched its first “osprey cam” at its Cox Reservation headquarters in Essex. The idea was to give online viewers a chance to watch a pair of nesting birds lay eggs and raise chicks. The nesting birds were viewed more than 60,000 times. Three eggs produced one chick, which died.

The heartfelt reaction of those who watched the drama unfold over the Internet showed how these birds can capture the imagination. With wingspans reaching 6 feet, they are often seen gliding low across the coast before diving talon-first into the water in search of fish.

“I’ve seen eight osprey flying at once off Forest River Park,” said Steve Saxe, a volunteer observer from Marblehead.

The birds, which migrate as far south as Venezuela, are expected to make their return to the area this month.

It will be a welcome sight.