CCB wants to hear from osprey watchers

  • Aquatic raptor
    Aquatic raptor
    Ospreys are common sights on or near water these days, especially around the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The Center for Conservation Biology wants to harness people's natural interest in these birds to collect data in an attempt to address some important environmental questions.
    Photo by Bryan Watts, Center for Conservation Biology

Do you have an osprey nest in your neighborhood? If so, the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) wants to hear from you—on a regular basis.

The Center has just launched Project OspreyWatch, a web-based initiative created to engage a global community of citizen ornithologists to collect data on breeding ospreys.

“Ospreys are a charismatic species,” said Bryan Watts, CCB director. “Many people with waterfront property have a nest on their dock or near their house. They like comparing notes about the activity of ‘their’ birds.”

Watts said that ospreys will be returning to their North American breeding grounds in early to mid March,“so right now is the best time to sign up to be an OspreyWatcher.”

The birds often mate for life and the pairs like to build nests near water or on structures over water. North American ospreys breed from Newfoundland south to Florida. The Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are prime nesting grounds, but ospreys are found on every continent but Antarctica and in freshwater, brackish and saltwater habitats.

The idea behind Project OspreyWatch, Watts explained, is to harness people’s natural interest in their ospreys for the sake of scientific research. Citizen ornithologists will log onto the Project OspreyWatch web site to enter pertinent date about the pair of ospreys that they’re watching. The CCB is looking to assemble data to address three of the most pressing issues facing aquatic ecosystems:

•          global climate change

•          depletion of fish stocks

•          effects of environmental contaminants.

“Osprey are one of very few truly global sentinels for aquatic health,” Watts said. “They feed almost exclusively on live fish throughout their entire life cycle.”

He explained that the ospreys’ fish diet makes the birds sensitive to overfishing and environmental contaminants in their range, while their highly seasonal breeding season makes them effective living barometers of climate change.

Watts points out that virtually all of the birds breed in the northern latitudes and winter in the southern latitudes, effectively linking the aquatic health of the hemispheres.

OspreyWatch is a user-friendly internet platform that allows observers across the globe to map their nests, log observations, upload photos, and interact within an observer forum. It also contains information about ospreys and links to osprey-related news stories.

 Information entered into the platform will be immediately accessible to OspreyWatchers and will be summarized following the breeding season.  To join a growing community of global citizens, visit http://www.osprey-watch.org and become an OspreyWatcher.

The Center for Conservation Biology is a joint program of the College of William & Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University.