Environment & Science
11:55 am
Wed July 11, 2012

Ospreys make a comeback in southern Michigan

Everyone loves a comeback story, and this is a good one. Just 13 years ago, there was only one osprey nest in southern Michigan. Today, there are at least 49.

The large raptor, known as the “fish hawk,” began disappearing from the Great Lakes region in step with increasing use of DDT and other pesticides. Scientists have found that these chemicals cause thinning in osprey eggshells.

The Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of DDT in 1972. Since then, wildlife officials have observed an improvement in the health of osprey populations, and in 1998, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources decided to re-introduce ospreys to the lower half of the state. The effort was funded by the Nongame Wildlife Fund.

The DNR explains how they did it:

During reintroduction efforts, DNR staffers removed male osprey chicks from their nests and placed them in hacking boxes, where they were fed and cared for daily by volunteers. A male will build a nest close to the location where he learned to fly, and the female chooses her mate based on the quality of his nest. Once paired, ospreys typically maintain their partner for life. Reintroduction efforts have been so successful that the DNR is no longer planning future hacking activities. However, banding of the chicks will continue each year. A federal bird identification band is placed on one leg as part of a national effort to monitor birds. A second, colored band is placed on the other leg to indicate the osprey's birth year.

Julie Oakes, a DNR wildlife biologist, says she's optimistic about the future of ospreys.

Each year we are seeing osprey from previous years return and nest,” Oakes said. “The hard work of so many organizations is really paying off, and by continuing our extensive monitoring efforts we will ensure that the osprey population remains strong and healthy.

The DNR requests that people report any osprey sightings in southern Michigan, especially in the Maple River area and Oakland, Wayne, Macomb and Livingston counties.

The birds are dark brown on top and bright white on bottom. Their wingspans can grow to between 5 and 6 feet, and they have a characteristic bend at the “wrist” of their wings. They have scaled feet with large, curled talons that are perfect for catching fish — their primary food source.

- Suzanne Jacobs, Michigan Radio Newsroom