submitted by Kathryn Brintnall, Board Member, TIOF
The familiar quote from the movie Field of Dreams, “If we build it, they will come,” is just what the board of The International Osprey Foundation (TIOF) is counting on. While it is not the crack of the bat associated with the return of baseball and spring training that they are anxiously awaiting, a much different arrival is anticipated just the same.
All winter, TIOF construction teams have been very busy doing the ‘building” referred to in that quote. They have been restoring nesting platforms in poor condition and installing new ones all over our area. Why? Because we know that if we build it, they will come. The ospreys will come back to make their homes among us. And today, we are happy to report that they are here.
For all of us on the islands of Sanibel, Captiva, Fort Myers Beach and Pine Island, as well as our surrounding mainland water communities, this is an exciting time of year. Not just because of the arrival of our migrating “snowbirds” and the usually busy social calendar, but because it is nesting season for our area’s favorite raptor, the osprey (sometimes called the fish hawk).
All over this part of Southwest Florida, migrating ospreys are returning to join the resident osprey population. The hunt is on to find or reestablish a home for the season. Ospreys are birds that exhibit “nest fidelity.” A mated pair will return to the same nest every year unless weather or a predator has destroyed the nest, or if one or both of the birds has perished in the off season.
What makes a good home for an osprey? Ospreys like to have a “room with a view.” (Don’t we all?) A 360-degree view is preferred. You will see their nests high up in tall trees or snags, as well as on platforms, and sometimes even utility poles. With over 70 active nests on Sanibel and Captiva alone, there are plenty of opportunities to see these birds in action. Nests can be found out in the bayous, lakes and canals, as well as in parking lots, ball fields and neighborhoods. Because osprey are living among us, and are very tolerant of human behavior, you don’t have to be a birdwatcher to observe them. Even the most casual of observers can enjoy quite a show.
First to arrive are the male birds, followed not long afterward by the females. Home improvement is their first priority. Quite a bit of time and energy is spent restoring the nest before mating and settling down to incubate the eggs and raise young. The male birds will snag mosses, seaweed and branches, large and small, to bring back to the nest. Strange human-made objects have also been observed in osprey nests. Yes, a milk crate, a traffic cone, a Barbie doll, and unfortunately those rings from beverage cans and monofilament fishing line have all been documented in active osprey nests. While not all these unnatural objects pose an imminent danger to the osprey, we all have a responsibility to make sure these types of items are disposed of responsibly so our neighbors, the osprey, do not get injured. While the female has been known to refuse an offering now and then, both birds are very serious about preparing a home for their new family.
Osprey nests are enhanced and rebuilt every year. While nests on platforms tend to be smaller than nests in trees and natural snags, a well-established nest that has been added to year after year can be over five feet in diameter and can weigh up to 300 pounds. A human being could sit quite comfortably inside it! While not on the federal endangered species list, osprey are considered a species of special concern here in Florida. By law, once incubation is observed, the nest should not be tampered with or removed from its location until the end of nesting season, when the chicks have fledged and learned to fish on their own.
To keep an eye on all of this activity, The International Osprey Foundation kicks into high gear. As a part of its mission to preserve the osprey species, teams of TIOF nest monitors are out observing and documenting nest activity from January until Memorial Day. By car, bicycle or kayak, the volunteer monitors visit the nests every two weeks (or sometimes more frequently after chicks are observed), during the nesting season. The observations are collected and published by the foundation at the end of the season. The data from these citizen scientists will also be posted on an international database called Osprey Watch. Osprey watchers all over the world are doing the same thing at this time of year and into the summer months in cooler climates.
With improved water quality, our osprey nesting season is off to a strong start so far this year on the islands and nearby local communities. TIOF hopes that your time here on the island this spring will include some osprey watching, and that if you are a snowbird, you will also look for them up north when you return home a bit later in the year. Tell all your friends about the amazing fish hawk called the osprey.
Remember, we all have an important role to play in the continuing success of the osprey species. If you see an injured bird or observe an accident involving an osprey, please contact CROW (the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife), at 239-472-3644, here on the island or your local wildlife rescue hotline. For other questions, or to obtain more information about ospreys, including how to join TIOF visit our website at www.ospreys.com.