Ospreys have made a dramatic comeback on the East End in recent years, with nearly 600 birds fledging from nests here this fall.

These fish hawks that nest along Long Island’s shorelines were among the many raptors dramatically impacted by the widespread use of the pesticide DDT in this country in the mid-20th Century, which caused their eggshells to become so thin that they could not withstand brooding.

Since DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972, the osprey population, along with populations of other large raptors like the bald eagle, has been steadily increasing here.

But the population explosion of ospreys here over the past decade has been quite noteworthy, according to the Group for the East End, which has been monitoring ospreys since it was founded 50 years ago, and has installed and maintained more than 250 osprey nesting poles throughout the region.

The Group reported in late October that the number of active nesting sites on the East End has increased by 200 percent in the past decade, with 466 documented nesting pairs and 585 fledglings this year. By comparison, in 1988, there were just 165 nests and 215 fledglings on all of Long Island.

One major factor in the population increase, according to The Group, is changes in regulations to limit the menhaden fishery over the past decade. 

These forage fish, known locally as bunker, are an important food source for fish consumed by humans here, including bluefish and striped bass. Their resurgence has proved a boon both for these fisheries and for ospreys, which rely almost exclusively on fish for their diet.

Tree nests are an ideal location for ospreys, but are in short supply as the population has soared. |. Group for the East End photo

“While it continues to be our collective responsibility to be vigilant environmental stewards, I confidently assert that the osprey population has made a full recovery on eastern Long Island,” said Group Director of Environmental Education Steve Biasetti. 

With the success of this species comes new potential for conflicts with humans, particularly with our utility infrastructure — ospreys have long attempted to nest atop utility poles, which has in prior years led to community outrage when utility workers attempted to remove dangerous nests.

To that end, PSEG-Long Island and local environmental groups have been partnering in recent years to provide better nesting sites and discourage ospreys from nesting on utility poles.

More information on PSEG-Long Island’s efforts is online at www.psegliny.com/wildlife.

“This partnership has enabled us to quickly identify and remediate dangerous situations and work on long-term planning that will protect both the osprey and the electric system,” said  said Daniel Eichhorn, president and chief operating officer of PSEG Long Island. “Most importantly, in an emergency, [Group President ]Bob DeLuca and his staff can now report to a location and provide guidance to our line workers and local residents, who enjoy these beautiful birds.” 

“Now that the breeding season has passed, our monitoring team is back in the field working with PSEG Long Island to identify those particular utility poles that create the most hazardous conditions for nesting and working to prioritize the installation of more hazardous nest deterrents ahead of next year’s breeding season,” said Mr. DeLuca. “The sooner we can identify the areas of greatest hazard, the sooner we can provide proactive protection for our returning ospreys.” 

The Group is also planning to launch a website devoted to human interactions with ospreys this winter, according to Group Environmental Associate Marina DeLuca, which will “include tips for avoiding conflicts, understanding behaviors, promoting osprey conservation and providing safe nesting opportunities for these magnificent birds.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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