Osprey comeback topic of keynote address

Alan Poole at Connecticut Audubon Society’s annual meeting held Monday, Oct, 7, 2019, at Pequot Library in Southport, CT.

I’ve taken a keen interest in the burgeoning osprey population ever since I covered the story about the osprey pair that built a nest at a Norwalk (Connecticut) beach park. The nest was being built high atop a light pole overlooking a softball field. It seemed a peculiar place to build a nest with the giant lights right there.

At the time, however, even more out of the ordinary was that an osprey pair was building a nest in Norwalk, which is a city in southwestern Connecticut on the shore of Long Island Sound. Norwalk hadn’t hosted an osprey nest — and certainly not one that public and visible — in many years, perhaps decades.

That was 2004. Fast forward 15 years and Norwalk is now home to a more than a dozen osprey nests. Connecticut, in fact, now has more than 500 osprey nests. All up and down the East Coast — shoreline and inland — ospreys have come back with a fury.

It is truly a conservation success story. Ospreys were nearly wiped out by pesticides in the 1950s. Now they have bounced back mightily throughout the U.S. and Europe, and their accompanying winter grounds in South America and Africa.

So when I saw that Alan F. Poole, a Massachusetts resident and noted expert/author on ospreys, was going to be the keynote speaker at the Connecticut Audubon Society’s annual meeting, I marked the date on my calendar.

Poole’s informative presentation on osprey included photos, graphs and charts on the incredible comeback of the “fish hawk.” Some tidbits from the presentation:

  • osprey are the only bird species that eats live fish exclusively
  • baby osprey take about 50 days to reach full size
  • in 1940 there were one thousand ospreys in New England; by the end of the 1950s only 90 pairs remained
  • artificial nesting sites such as man-made platforms and light poles have played a major role in the recovery
  • ospreys mate for life but do not migrate together
  • about half of the first-year osprey will die within the first year
  • osprey nests are made of large sticks and may weigh a half ton or more
  • osprey are gentle birds for the most part but will fiercely defend its nest
  • John James Audubon was a big fan of osprey and called them “This Famed Bird”
  • Osprey have self-sharpening talons as the hard upper layer of the talon grows faster than the soft under part

Poole recently wrote Ospreys: The Revival of a Global Raptor.

In other business, Connecticut Audubon Society (@CTAudubon) reinstated its officers, confirmed new board members and doled out awards to volunteers. It’s a great organization worthy of support.

Poole ended his presentation with an interesting comment. Referring to the study released a few weeks ago about the bird population decreasing by 29 percent since 1970, Poole said: “Ospreys are a good example that we can get things right if we pay attention and get organized.”

Amen to that.

Photo by Chris Bosak A first-year Osprey sits on the top of a sailboat mast along the Norwalk River in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A first-year Osprey sits on the top of a sailboat mast along the Norwalk River in Norwalk, Conn., summer 2015.

Bird population decline fodder II


Here are some more graphics from the recently released bird population study that showed a decline of 2.9 billion birds, or 29 percent, in North American over the last 50 years.

Here’s my recent article on it.

The study’s accompanying website is 3billionbirds.org



Northern bobwhite highlights walk

Photo by Chris Bosak
A northern bobwhite calls at Happy Landing in Brookfield, Connecticut, fall 2018.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a northern bobwhite in the wild. There are several reasons for that; the biggest being that the bird’s population has declined sharply over the years. Another reason is that 99 percent of my birdwatching is done in New England and the bobwhite is more of a southern bird. 

Despite all that I did come across a male northern bobwhite during a walk at Happy Landings in Brookfield, Connecticut, this morning (Dec. 12, 2018). It was walking along the path near a shrubby area and sauntered off into the brush as I continued along the trail. I walked several yards past the point where the bird had ducked into cover and I took a seat on the trail to see if the bird would come back out. Patience is a birdwatcher’s best tool, I reminded myself as I sat there motionless on this cold and sunny morning. 

My patience was never tested as the bird did come back through the brush and onto the trail in a matter of minutes. It stopped and called a few notes (not its trademark “Bob-white” song, but its less distinctive call) as I watched from a short distance away. It sat there still and called a few more times. I didn’t hear any response calls, but there could have been another bobwhite around. 

It’s hard to tell if this was truly a wild bird or a captive-bred bird that escaped or was released. Bobwhite is a popular game and farm bird. I didn’t notice any leg bands, so I’m hoping it was a bona fide wild bird. Either way, it was a treat to see it in New England. 

The sighting became that much more meaningful after reading this northern bobwhite conservation update from The Audubon Society (audubon.org): “Has disappeared from much of the northern part of its range, and has declined seriously even in more southern areas. The causes for these declines are not well understood. At northern edge of range, many may be killed by unusually harsh winters, but this does not explain its widespread vanishing act.”

Photo by Chris Bosak A nothern bobwhite calls at Happy Landing in Brookfield, Connecticut, fall 2018.

Interesting habitat story about New England by the AP

Photo by Chris Bosak Common Loon

Photo by Chris Bosak
Common Loon

Here’s an interesting story from the Associated Press. I hope the proposal goes through and comes to fruition.

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to establish the “Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge,” areas of New England and New York to preserve more shrubland and young forests for numerous species, such as the New England cottontail.

The agency has identified areas in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island. The goal is to gain up to 15,000 acres.

The agency says many areas across the Northeast have been cleared for development or have grown into mature forests. Private landowners and conservation groups have worked with state wildlife agencies to restore and protect land for 65 songbirds, mammals, reptiles and other wildlife, but more land is needed.

The Service is accepting comments on the proposal through March 4.

Here’s the rest of the story from AP. 

For the Birds column: Project FeedWatch underway

Here’s my latest For the Birds column, which ran last Thursday in The Hour (Norwalk, CT) and Monday in The Keene (N.H.) Sentinel.

Photo by Chris Bosak White-breasted Nuthatches are a common feeder bird in New England.

Photo by Chris Bosak
White-breasted Nuthatches are a common feeder bird in New England.

Project FeederWatch gets under way

What will $18 get you these days?

About four cups of coffee from Starbucks. (Served in plain red cups void of evil, offensive snowflake images.)

About eight gallons of gasoline. Way better than the five gallons it used to get you.

Three bundles of the firewood stacked at the entrance of every grocery store, convenience store and hardware store these days. The bundles are each good for about 10 minutes in a firepit.

Two and a half craft beers at just about any bar or restaurant. Oops, forgot about the tip. Make that two beers.

Or, $18 covers your entrance fee to participate in Project FeederWatch, a citizen science project of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. It entails keeping track of the birds you see at your backyard feeding stations and submitting your results online. The data collected helps scientists track bird populations in the winter — similar to the Christmas Bird Count and Great Backyard Bird Count.

The fee also gets you a bird ID poster, birdwatching calendar, instruction sheet and newsletter. No guarantee here that the materials will not have images of snowflakes. Try not to be offended if they do.

Project FeederWatch officially started this past Saturday and runs through early April. Don’t worry if you missed the opening day, you can join in whenever. Participants can count the birds as much or as little as they’d like — 24/7 monitoring is not necessary. Being an expert birdwatcher is not required either.

All skill levels welcome. Why not get the entire family involved? Old and young.

I’ve never participated in the Project before, mostly because I’ve never lived in a place where my feeders have been terribly active. Now that I live at a place with very active feeders I’m looking forward to participating this year. (Active feeders, however, are not a prerequisite for participation. Anybody can do it as long as they have a feeder up.)

The feeders at my new place are always bustling with the common visitors White-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice and Downy Woodpeckers. I also see Carolina Wrens, Blue Jays, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and American Goldfinches. Lately I’ve noticed a few Dark-eyed Juncos under the feeders. The White-throated Sparrows are not far behind, I’m sure. Will my Pine Warblers I had earlier this fall return to the suet cake? Probably not, but I’ll be watching. Who knows what else will show up?

To join the Project or to get more information, visit http://www.feederwatch.org. The website is full of information and tips on identifying birds (including tricky IDs), feeding birds tips, trend maps, and historical data.

So why participate other than it “helps scientists?” Many bird species are in decline, some seriously so. Tracking the winter abundance and distribution of birds with long-term data offers valuable insight into their lives. It helps scientists track gradual population shifts of bird species. WE know the Carolina Wren and Red-bellied Woodpecker are trending northward. This data quantifies the movement.

That’s more of a positive population shift. What about the negative one? What about the species that are declining year after year?

The data helps scientists recognize the decline and figure out solutions more quickly.

Let me know if join and what birds you see at your feeders.


For the Birds runs Thursdays in The Hour. Chris Bosak may be reached at bozclark@earthlink.net. Visit his website at birdsofnewengland.com

Project FeederWatch starts Saturday

Here’s an email I received recently from The Cornell Lab or Ornithology. With my new home buzzing with bird activity, I’m going to join this important citizen science project this year. Here are the details should you be thinking about it, too, or learning of the project for the first time here:


Dear Friend of the Cornell Lab,

The FeederWatch season begins on Saturday, November 14, so now is the time to sign up! This is the last reminder that we will send to you before the season starts, and we hope you decide to join the fun this year.

What is Project FeederWatch?

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders. Participants periodically identify and count the birds at their feeders from November-April. Using our easy online data entry, you can immediately see all of your own counts and view colorful tables, graphs, and summaries.

With Project FeederWatch, you become the biologist of your own backyard.

Anyone interested in birds can participate; you don’t have to be an expert. All you need is a bird feeder, a comfortable chair, a window, and an interest in the birds in your neighborhood.

New participants will receive:

  • FeederWatch Handbook & Instructions
  • Full-color poster of common feeder birds
  • Bird-Watching Days Calendar
  • Our annual report, Winter Bird Highlights
  • Subscription to the Cornell Lab newsletter

Why should I participate?

FeederWatch data help scientists track broad movements and long term trends in abundance of winter feeder-bird populations. Explore the millions of FeederWatch sightings on our website. You can help contribute to a nearly 30-year dataset that helps us understand bird biology while learning about the feathered friends in your own backyard. Join online today.

Sign up for $18 ($15 for Lab members) today so that we can get your research kit in the mail.  Although it takes several weeks for kits to arrive, you can begin counting birds Saturday following our online instructions. Your participation fee helps keep the project running; without it, Project FeederWatch wouldn’t be possible.

We hope you will tell us about the birds at your feeders!


Emma Greig
Project Leader
Project FeederWatch