Osprey: From Surviving to Thriving
Thanks to conservation efforts, osprey populations have rebounded in New Jersey.
Thanks to efforts by The Nature Conservancy and other conservation groups, the osprey population in New Jersey is officially booming! The fierce-gazed raptors are happily proliferating, with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife estimating 647 nesting pairs in the state in 2020, producing a total of 812 young.
While the Atlantic coast, particularly the wetlands and waterways around Barnegat Bay and Great Egg Harbor, accounted for most of the nests, ground surveys determined that the most productive nests were those along the Delaware Bay.
It’s welcome news.
Osprey were once abundant along the New Jersey coast, their six-foot wingspans easy to spot as they soared in the skies and dove to pluck fish from the water. But even with sharp talons and a reversible toe, osprey could not keep a foothold in the region when DDT pesticide came into use for insect control. A diet of DDT-laced fish stunted osprey reproduction, causing their eggshells to become thinner and decimating their numbers.
By 1974, with fewer than 50 nests in the state, osprey landed firmly on the New Jersey endangered species list.
The use of DDT was banned, and osprey populations slowly started increasing. Conservation groups erected platforms to encourage nesting in marshy habitats where development replaced tree lines, and the osprey caught on—by the mid-1980’s there were over 200 healthy pairs nesting here. There are now more than 800 platforms around the state, and it is estimated that 75% of nesting osprey are using these man-made structures in New Jersey.
Stewarding Osprey Habitat
Every year before nesting season, TNC repairs or replaces nearly 30 osprey platforms in southern New Jersey. These platforms provide nesting habitat for ospreys, making their availability and upkeep vital to osprey conservation.
Healthy Lands, Healthy Osprey
Today, we know we must conserve and restore land at an unprecedented scale—for the benefit of people, wildlife, and our climate. Ospreys remain a priority for TNC in New Jersey. For nearly two decades we've been stewarding osprey habitat and maintaining and monitoring osprey nesting platforms in Cape May and Cumberland counties as part of PSEG’s Estuary Enhancement Program. Since 1994, that initiative has restored, enhanced, and/or preserved more than 20,000 acres of salt marsh and adjacent lands to vital, healthy habitat for fish and wildlife.
TNC in New Jersey manages more than 5,000 acres under the PSEG program, including nesting sites in Dennis Township and Commercial Township, and within watersheds of the Maurice River, Cohansey River and Alloway Creek. TNC also protects critical osprey habitat at its Maurice River Bluffs and Gandy's Beach preserves. We have installed osprey platforms at three of our flagship preserves: South Cape May Meadows, Garrett Family Preserve at Cape Island Creek, and Maurice River Bluffs. We share osprey data from these locations with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Endangered and Nongame Species Program to be added into the overall count for the state.
Osprey nest and raise young along our coast from early spring to late summer before migrating to South America. During nesting season, the platform at our South Cape May Meadows Preserve is live-streamed and allows viewers to follow the osprey along with their nesting journey. Adults, which mate for life, make the roundtrip journey and return to the same nest every year; juveniles will spend two years in South America before coming back to our shores. In 2017, birds banded in New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia were spotted in Aruba, Antilles, and Venezuela. An exciting occasion during the most recent banding season was the recording of a 16-year-old male osprey, the oldest living of his species ever to be reported in New Jersey. The trend continues positively for osprey in the Garden State.