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Elizabeth River Osprey

  • Elizabeth River Osprey

Not-so-silent spring, Elizabeth River osprey announce their comeback

Elizabeth River Osprey

After spending the winter months in South America, osprey pairs return to their nesting sites.  Their high-pitched, whistling calls become the song of the River, ushering in the spring and a bustle of life.  But, this has not always been the case here on the Elizabeth.  In 1995 when the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) surveyed the entire Chesapeake Bay osprey population, the Elizabeth River supported just five breeding pairs.

Know Your River: Osprey
Female ospreys wear a “necklace” of brown feathers & male ospreys are “clean shaven” with all white feathers under their necks. 

After spending the winter months in South America, osprey pairs return to their nesting sites.  Their high-pitched, whistling calls become the song of the River, ushering in the spring and a bustle of life.  But, this has not always been the case here on the Elizabeth.  In 1995 when the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) surveyed the entire Chesapeake Bay osprey population, the Elizabeth River supported just five breeding pairs.

Elizabeth River Osprey

Because they subsist on a 99% fish diet, ospreys are living indicators of a waterway’s health.  In the mid-20th century, the pesticide DDT caused the eggs of osprey and other fish-eating birds to be so thin they broke in the nest, devastating the population.

In early May, we rode along with CCB’s Bryan and Marian Watts to survey osprey on the Elizabeth River.  Using a mirror attached to a pole, researchers can easily count the number of eggs and/or chicks in a clutch with minimal disturbance.  All in all, the researchers surveyed twenty-five nests on portions of the Lafayette, Main Branch, and Western Branch of the Elizabeth River.  Two adult females were also banded.

At the time of the survey, some of the chicks were just hatching.  They will be fed fish from the Elizabeth and begin their flight lessons when they are around seven weeks old.  The fledglings, identified by their reddish-orange eyes, will learn to fish in July and be the last to migrate south around the last week of August.

Remarkably, mature osprey return each year to nest in a site in the same area in which they were born, making the revitalization of our osprey population “one of the great success stories of the Elizabeth” according to Watts.  Next time you hear the unmistakable, piercing call of an osprey, take it as a reminder that our River is certainly not dead, but on the mend.