Osprey also called Fish Hawk or Sea Hawk
Late Summer and Autumn is Migration time for Ospreys!
Many people would like to think all juvenile birds grow up in a family that lives together and migrates together, but this isn't always true. Young ospreys are entirely on their own soon after they are able to fly and capture food. Adult ospreys nurture their offspring until the young are able to feed themselves, then their role as parents is complete.
Mother osprey typically leaves the nest first. She becomes less and less of a presence around the nest starting sometime in August before finally taking off by herself. Father osprey will remain a few days or weeks behind to help the young become independent hunters. By early September, most if not all resident osprey parents will have left the nest, migrating south well before their offspring.
Ultimately, the young ospreys will be on their own to polish their flying and foraging skills and to increase their energy stores before starting a long winged journey single-handedly down south, without any help from another osprey. The young ospreys will amazingly have to fly thousands of miles to a place in the tropics they have never been before unaided by parents, map or a chart.
How Do Young Ospreys Know Where to Go?
While there are lots of theories, there are not a lot of absolute answers. Migration is still a mystery. Instinct almost certainly plays a big role. A sixth sense that will urge an inexperienced bird to move southward.
Over the years, wildlife biologists have tracked ospreys that have nested in Jamaica Bay, NY with miniature satellite transmitters during fall migration. These scientific studies have at least revealed an osprey's general flight path. The birds will follow the sun, stars, and coastline of North American to the tip of Florida, then cross the Straits of Florida to Cuba before heading east to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. From there, young ospreys will usually fly 500 miles over open water to winter in northern South America, in places along rainforest rivers and lakes into the Amazon Basin ranging from Brazil, Venezuela, or Columbia. It's more than a 3,500 mile journey, perhaps as much as 5,000 miles depending on which route a particular young osprey may take. These young-of-the-year birds will then typically spend 18 months in South America before making their return migration northward to find a partner, nest, and raise of family of their own.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also tells us that a single osprey may log more than 160,000 air miles during its 15-to-20-year lifetime traveling from its wintering home in the tropics to its breeding home in North America. For example, during thirteen days in 2008, one osprey flew 2,700 miles, from Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, to French Guiana, South America.
Dangers & Threats
There are many dangers for young first-time ospreys during fall migration. They can get hit by a car or ship, get tangled up in power lines, get shot at by an angry aquaculture farmer in the Caribbean or South America, get blown off course by storms and hurricanes, and even get lost when crossing the open ocean. The good news is that statistically those young ospreys that do survive their first year have a better chance of surviving future migrations.
In the past, the sight of an osprey was a rarity due to reproductive failure from pesticide contamination (largely from D.D.T), nest disturbance and shooting for sport. Thankfully, osprey numbers are increasing today and individuals are returning to formerly vacated breeding grounds, as well as expanding into new areas including in Coney Island and Jamaica Bay, New York, Raritan Bay in New Jersey, and inland up the Connecticut and Quinnipac rivers in Connecticut.
Improving water quality, protection of habitat and for birds, restoration efforts in floodplain areas and near coastal waters, as well as the construction of artificial nesting platforms by conservation groups and volunteers, have all helped in the osprey’s recovery and have provided safe nesting locations. Of course there is still more work to be done to clean up local waters and restore habitat for this beautiful fish hawk to endure.