Osprey adults and fledglings in nest.
Nesting Osprey Osprey on nest at the Eldora Nature Preserve in New Jersey. © TNC/Damon Noe

Stories in New Jersey

Osprey: From Surviving to Thriving

In New Jersey, osprey are one of nature’s great comeback stories.

Key Takeaways

  • The effects of the pesticide DDT decimated osprey populations. In New Jersey, the osprey was officially listed as endangered in 1974.
  • DDT was banned and New Jersey conservation groups joined forces to erect nesting platforms in marshy habitats with clean water and healthy fish.
  • For over 20 years TNC has been stewarding osprey habitat and maintaining nesting platforms, helping the species rebound.

Cape May Live Osprey Cam

Ospreys migrate south every fall and return to New Jersey's coast from early spring to late summer to nest and raise young. During nesting season, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) live-streams from the platform at our South Cape May Meadows Preserve, giving viewers a true bird’s-eye view of the ospreys’ nesting and feeding activities. Adults, which mate for life, return to the same nest every year; juveniles spend about 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. In 2023, 50 ospreys banded locally as nestlings were re-sighted during nest surveys. 

South Cape May Meadows Osprey Platform (0:26) The South Cape May Meadows osprey camera is live annually from March through September. In the meantime, enjoy the highlights from the 2023 nesting season.

Nature's Great Comeback Story

One of the first signs of spring in New Jersey is the return of osprey in mid-March. Osprey pairs nest and raise their young along our coast from early spring to late summer before migrating back to South America.

Osprey, also known as fish hawks, 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.

Two young ospreys are standing in a nest.
Young Osprey About 55 days after hatching, osprey chicks will fledge. © Mary Conti

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-1980s there were more than 200 healthy pairs nesting here.

There are now more than 800 platforms around the state, and it’s estimated that 75% of nesting osprey are using these man-made structures in New Jersey. 

An osprey stands in its nest with its wing outstretched.
Osprey Wings Ospreys are large birds with a wingspan of 5-foot-6-inches. © TNC
Closeup of osprey talons, showing the unique structure of its four toes.
Osprey Talons Osprey talons are adapted to allow one of its three front toes to bend backwards so that there are two claws pointing forward and two in reverse on each foot. © TNC
Osprey Wings Ospreys are large birds with a wingspan of 5-foot-6-inches. © TNC
Osprey Talons Osprey talons are adapted to allow one of its three front toes to bend backwards so that there are two claws pointing forward and two in reverse on each foot. © TNC

Thanks to efforts by The Nature Conservancy and other conservation groups, the osprey population in New Jersey is going strong. The fierce-gazed raptors are happily proliferating, with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey estimating 808 occupied nests in the state in 2023—54 new nests compared to 2022 and the most recorded to date! A total of 762 young were produced from the 657 known-outcome nests throughout the state; just over 200 pairs failed to produce offspring. In the last few years, weather impacts have affected coastal nest productivity, driving down the statewide average rate to 1.16 young per active (known-outcome) nest, the lowest recorded since 2003 (0.86 young per active nest). Still, enough chicks fledged successfully to sustain the population. 

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.

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.

Two men with osprey platform.
Female osprey guarding her eggs in a nest.
A man stands on a ladder to monitor an osprey platform while an osprey flies high overhead.
Osprey chick in a nest.

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 more than two decades we’ve been stewarding osprey habitat and maintaining and monitoring osprey nesting platforms in Cape May, Cumberland and Salem 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 osprey platforms in 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 the Maurice River Bluffs. 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—and 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.


During March, nesting ospreys return to the platform at our South Cape May Meadows Preserve. We live-stream the nesting process and keep records of the nest’s productivity.

A flying osprey carries a fish in its talons.
Osprey When carrying their prey back to the nest, osprey will arrange the fish so that it is facing upright, head forward. © Shutterstock: Steve Bower

TNC Osprey Camera Kit

The South Cape May Meadows Osprey Kit is a fun and interactive way to engage remotely with wildlife and ecosystems. The kit includes activities that are both educational and entertaining. Engage your kids with nature by taking an osprey themed quiz, jotting down nest observations, or learning more about ospreys in New Jersey through the resources we've provided.

Videos and Additional Resources

Freshen up on your osprey knowledge by reviewing these resources.


  • Quiz for Kids: guide your child through our osprey fact sheet and test their knowledge with our online quiz! Also available as a printed version and answer key.
  • Quiz for General Audience: read the fact sheet and additional resources we've provided, then see if you can ace this online osprey quiz! Also available as a printed version and answer key
  • Osprey Camera Field Notes: print out this worksheet so you can record your osprey nest observations, just like a real scientist!
  • Scavenger Hunt: check off nest activities as you see them happen in real time with this fun scavenger hunt
  • Osprey Nest Tutorial: learn how to make your very own osprey nest with this fun craft tutorial video.

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