News Release: Connecticut Audubon Society Launches Osprey Nation, a New Citizen Science Initiative to Help Protect the State’s Ospreys
June 17, 2014 – Connecticut Audubon Society today announced the launch of a new citizen science program called “Osprey Nation” with the goal of tracking and safeguarding the hundreds of Ospreys that nest in Connecticut.
Working in partnership with Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Connecticut Audubon Society is recruiting volunteer stewards for Osprey Nation, to create a long-term record of information that will provide a better understanding of the health of Connecticut’s Osprey population.
It was only several decades ago that the widespread use of DDT brought these great fish-eating raptors to the brink of extinction. But with a ban on this toxic pesticide and the efforts of government biologists, conservation groups and individuals, Ospreys have made a dramatic comeback. Ospreys now nest in dozens of locations along the coast, and on rivers and lakes further inland.
“The status of these magnificent birds provide us with invaluable insights into the health of our lakes, rivers, Long Island Sound – and ourselves,” said Alexander Brash, president of Connecticut Audubon Society. “If Ospreys are doing well, we know that fish are plentiful and relatively free of environmental contaminants. If the Osprey population starts to fall again, it will be a signal that something is wrong somewhere.”
Connecticut Audubon is creating an interactive map, available on www.ctaudubon.org/osprey-nation, that will show the location as well as key information about each nest. The data will also be provided to the Connecticut DEEP.
“In order to follow any population trends in our Ospreys, we need to know how many nests are in Connecticut and whether the birds are thriving over time,” Brash said.
Robert Klee, commissioner of the DEEP, said: “Careful monitoring of the Osprey population continues to be important and the volunteer work of Connecticut’s citizen scientists will provide the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection with valuable information that will help scientists determine how well Ospreys are doing in Connecticut. Since their comeback after the ban of DDT in the 1970’s, the population has experienced a steady increase and can be seen all along Connecticut’s coasts and rivers.”
Milan Bull, Connecticut Audubon Society’s senior director of science and conservation, said the organization is recruiting a network of volunteer stewards to collect data on Osprey nests, including location, arrival dates in spring, nesting success and departure dates.
“If you live near an active Osprey nest, own binoculars or a spotting scope, and want to join our network of stewards, please email us at Osprey@Ctaudubon.org,” Bull said.
Bull said he estimates that each volunteer steward would need to spend no more than an hour a month, from late March through August, observing, recording information and emailing it to Connecticut Audubon Society. The organization is also asking stewards to monitor the condition of Osprey nesting sites, especially poles, and to work with Connecticut Audubon and the Connecticut DEEP to make sure they are safe and secure.
The decline of Ospreys, not just in Connecticut but throughout their range, was caused by the widespread use of the toxin DDT and the loss of nest sites. A widely used agricultural pesticide, DDT entered the rivers and Sound, was absorbed in the fish the birds ate, and caused the shells of Osprey eggs to become thin and to break as it interfered with the Osprey’s ability to metabolize calcium.
Listed as Endangered in nearly every state, Ospreys began their rebound with the banning of DDT in 1972. That year was the low point for Ospreys in Connecticut, with only seven active nests. Thereafter they became a poster-child for conservation as a cleaner environment coupled with an abundance of new nest sites created by the public, led to their resurgence.
Today no one knows how many Ospreys nest in Connecticut, although the number is large: on the lower Connecticut River, 29 active Osprey nests are visible from one spot in Old Lyme alone.
However, Ospreys can still ingest DDT on their wintering grounds, so continued careful monitoring is important. Even more critical is that Ospreys and the fish they eat from our waters are still great monitors for any new and unknown toxic substances that might be out there.
“Ospreys are our charismatic canaries,” Brash said, “and are a critical first line of defense in monitoring our environment and ultimate human health.”