Don your hip waders and join our New Jersey staff as they navigate thick marsh and even thicker swarms of flies into raptor territory for an incredible osprey banding experience.
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 515 nesting pairs in the state in 2016—a historic high. The Atlantic coast – in particular the wetlands and waterways around Barnegat Bay and Great Egg Harbor – accounted for the vast majority of nests.
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 (there are now more than 800 platforms around the state) 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, and this year we can celebrate a true rebound of the species in New Jersey as total numbers continue their upward trend.
Osprey remain a priority for The Nature Conservancy in New Jersey. We’re marking our sixteenth year of stewarding osprey habitat and maintaining and monitoring osprey nesting platforms in Cape May and Cumberland counties as part of PSEG’s Estuary Enhancement Program. That initiative has since 1994 restored, enhanced, and/or preserved more than 20,000 acres of salt marsh and adjacent lands to vital, healthy habitat for fish and wildlife.
“So far this year at PSEG sites we’ve tallied 35 robust juvenile osprey, which definitely shows numbers moving in the right direction,” says Damon Noe, stewardship coordinator for The Nature Conservancy in New Jersey. “We share our data with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife Endangered and Nongame Species Program to be added into the overall count for the state.”
Noe and other Conservancy staff manage 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. The Conservancy also protects critical osprey habitat at its Maurice River Bluffs and Gandy’s Beach preserves.
Osprey nest and raise young along our coast from early spring to late summer before migrating to South America. 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.