Oregon coast naturalist Neal Maine still gets a thrill after many years of watching the osprey return to their nests in Seaside.
Maine has found nine nests so far and estimates that there are about 20 osprey locally, but he admits that there are likely some he’s missing.
“When nature keeps on marching, you get excited. When the osprey return, somethings still right, they flew all the way from South America,” said Maine.
The annual return of the osprey not only marks the coming of summer, it is a sign of the progress being made in conservation. Osprey, along with other raptors, suffered a population decimation from the use of DDT which caused egg shell thinning. Once the pesticide was banned the bird of prey made a sharp recovery.
But they aren’t out of the woods yet. There is a growing trend of osprey nesting on man-made objects. Osprey typically nest near rivers on the top of dead trees, but as forest composition changed and old growth snags disappeared, they started relying on utility poles and other tall objects to rear their young.
And their choice location isn’t always convenient. When osprey in Seaside decided to nest on a pole near the Broadway baseball field the raptors didn’t consider that the power line may one day need replacement. The nest was relocated on a 60 foot high pole installed off of Neawanna Creek. Fortunately the birds were fine with the move and have continued to nest at the new location since 2012. Maine, who oversaw the project, has watched the same birds come back to the same nests since 2009.
Osprey that summer in Oregon typically winter off the islands and coast of Mexico, Central and South America, segregating into male and female territories. Osprey typically live to 25 in the wild and will continue to use the same nest with their monogamous partner, unless something tragic happens. The juveniles also come back to the area where they were reared so the birds on the coast have been here for many, many generations.
While their numbers rebounded significantly in most of the world after the banning of DDT, osprey are still threatened or endangered globally, including in many states nationally. In Oregon they are not considered legally endangered, although aren’t as abundant as they once were. Currently, the biggest threat to osprey is aquaculture which causes habitat loss as a result of damming. The raptors are often shot while hunting fish at aquaculture facilities in their southern territory.
But here in Oregon the birds are increasingly overwintering locally rather than migrating and it’s not clear as to why. The birds rely on an abundant source of fish which may be harder for the birds to find as more rivers are dammed for agriculture, flood control, aquaculture and hydro power. It’s also possible that they are finding the Willamette Valley’s maritime climate more amenable than in year’s past and have moved north, like many birds, as a result of climate change. And it could be a slough of other variables not yet identified. There aren’t many resources on the coast dedicated to the study of osprey.
“We didn’t even know where the nests were, it wasn’t on anyone’s agenda. ODFW was budgeted back to survival level, there’s not even an ODFW office in Clatsop County,” said Maine.
Since the osprey aren’t a priority species, answering these questions might fall on the shoulders of people like Maine, who engages regularly in citizen science.
“More and more are staying every winter in the valley, and last year I found one here in January,” he said.
Nature certainly does find a way and osprey are a testament to that. They are resilient birds and can make themselves at home in the busiest of human environments.
“It seems like they watch the baseball games,” Maine said about the birds at the Broadway field.
Check out the osprey cam at seasideosprey.org or better yet, go find them in person in Seaside.