BIRD WATCH: Growing numbers of osprey indicative of better habitat, food availability

NEWLY FLEDGED BIRDS mean more and more action from late spring to midsummer.

Later this month, the cries of young osprey will make things interesting throughout Western Washington.

The increase in osprey numbers since the banning of DDT is nothing short of a miracle. This ban gets most of the credit for the osprey’s population boom, but there is more to it than that.

I grew up in the Northwest, and from third grade on, most of my days (with the exception of school) were spent outdoors.

The neighborhood was rural. Trees, fields and a saltwater shoreline dominated the habitat. Freshwater creeks crossed many of these properties.

During the summer months, a large part of the day would be spent on the beach, which was a short walk from home.

I not only don’t remember seeing bald eagles during those halcyon days of childhood and summer, but there were also no osprey to watch fishing in the bay.

We did notice large birds flying overhead. The great blue heron often could be seen flying over the woods towards the bay. It was exciting and duly noted.

“There goes the crane!” That’s what everyone called it back then.

Chinese pheasants made a strong impression because they flew from almost under our feet when we were tramping through the fields.

It was decades before I saw my first osprey. That took place on the Washington coast near Lake Ozette. We began hiking with our children in the ’60s, and the first hike took us to that area. A pair of osprey were nesting on one of the large rocks some distance offshore.

During the early ’80s, much of our hiking time was taken up exploring the wild land bordering the Olympic Peninsula’s Hoh River. Our cabin replaced the tents of mountain hiking, and we discovered our very own osprey nest.

Less than a quarter-mile from the cabin, we could watch a pair raise and feed their young and launch them into the world. It was heartbreaking one winter when the heavy wet snow brought the huge old snag and very large nest crashing into splinters.

It was a happy surprise a summer or two later when we once again saw osprey fishing over the river.

Since those the days, osprey numbers have continued to climb. What we are enjoying today is a happy wildlife story.

You don’t have to travel to the coast or visit the large rivers on the Olympic Peninsula to find nesting osprey. I know of at least four nests within a short drive of where I live. Even in areas where there is constant human activity, osprey appear to thrive.

This is one reason their numbers are healthy: They can live in a human-dominated environment as well as a wild one. They may even thrive because some human activities present an advantage they don’t enjoy in more wild areas.

A large tree with its top busted off not only appeals to nesting osprey, but bald eagles and other large raptors compete for those nesting sites. The large light standards that exist around ballfields and other facilities are common.

While there may be some competition for manmade nesting structures, it isn’t as intense as in the wild. Nesting habitat and a constant food supply are vital for any species to survive.

The osprey seem to be enjoying both, and their growing numbers are evidence of that.

It’s July, the beginning of osprey fledging time. If you have a nest in your neighborhood or a short distance away, keep an ear turned skyward. Those giant peeping baby chicks overhead signal that osprey flight training has begun.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected].

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