Horned Lark

Osprey Nation Grows as Citizen Scientists Help Monitor Connecticut’s Osprey Population

Carol Dunn, one of Osprey Nation's stalwart stewards, observes a nest at Gulf Pond in Milford. Photo by Susan Doherty.

Carol Dunn, one of Osprey Nation’s stalwart stewards, observes a nest at Gulf Pond in Milford. Photo by Susan Doherty.

July 13, 2015 — Osprey Nation, the Connecticut Audubon Society’s citizen science program, has grown significantly in its second year, with more volunteer stewards documenting, mapping and monitoring considerably more nests than last year.

Statewide, 134 Connecticut residents are volunteering this nesting season to collect bi-weekly and monthly data on the state’s rapidly increasing Osprey population – 30 more volunteers than last year.

These Osprey Nation volunteers have found 492 nests in 2015, 78 more than last year’s 414 nests. They are monitoring 296 of those nests, 122 more than last year’s 174.

And although it can be difficult to observe the inside of distant nests on raised platforms, data submitted so far indicate that 94 pairs of Osprey have hatched an average of two young birds per nest in 2015. This has been an unusual year in that a larger number of nests than normal are behind schedule, and the number of nestlings is likely to increase as young birds grow and become easier to see.

In 2014, Osprey Nation stewards documented that 78 nests successfully produced fledgling Ospreys. However not every nest in the state was monitored; some of those nests successfully produced young birds, but there is no estimate of how many.

Connecticut Audubon staff coordinates the volunteers, records data on an interactive map on the organization’s website, and shares the data with biologists at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and other partners. Started last year, Osprey Nation is a citizen science partnership designed to create a long-term record of data that will give the conservation community a better understanding of the health of Connecticut’s Osprey population. 

The program’s goals for 2015 include adding nest locations to the map, learning more about nests that are not yet being monitored, searching for trends that would indicate whether the state’s Osprey population is declining or increasing, and analyzing what those trends might tell us about water quality and fish populations.

“Early indications are that Connecticut’s Osprey population is thriving – and for that knowledge, we have our 133 Osprey Nation volunteers to thank,” said Alexander Brash, president of The Connecticut Audubon Society. “Ospreys are abundant and our map shows that they are nesting throughout the state. But we need to keep in mind that this in only the second year of the program, and we need to continue to collect data to get a true, long-term picture of the Osprey’s health.”

DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee said, “Osprey Nation is a great example of citizen science at its best. Connecticut Audubon stepped in to help our wildlife biologists keep pace with monitoring a rapidly growing osprey population statewide. We greatly appreciate the stewardship efforts of all the Osprey Nation volunteers in continuing to be part of one of Connecticut’s biggest wildlife success stories.”

The decline of Ospreys, not just in Connecticut but throughout their range, was caused by the widespread use of the toxin DDT, combined with the loss of nest sites and increased predation of ground nests. 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.

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