Thanks in part to manmade nest platforms that dot the state’s wetlands, New Jersey’s osprey population continues to grow, with nesting pairs in almost every coastal township from Sandy Hook to Cape May.
There were a record 515 known osprey nests along the Atlantic Coast, Delaware Bay and Maurice River last year, according to the Osprey Project’s 2016 Report.
“The vast majority are along the Atlantic coastline,” said state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna.
But with that success come challenges.
The many platforms that hold nests need to be checked regularly to see if they need repairs and to remove any manmade trash that has accumulated there — especially plastics, according to the report by Kathleen Clark, of the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, and Benjamin Wurst, of Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ.
Ospreys, like bald eagles, were decimated by hunting, habitat loss and the use of the pesticide DDT from the 1940s through much of the 1960s. The chemical, which damaged the eggs of raptors, was outlawed in 1968.
The osprey was the first species to be removed from the endangered species list in New Jersey, in 1985.
The state population grew from a low of 68 pairs in 1975 to 87 pairs in 1981. It has kept going up from there.
The state relies on citizen scientists to help survey, repair nests and even band young, the report said.
About 8 percent of the total population was surveyed last year in late June and early July, timed to occur when the young are about 21 days old and most visible in their nests.
Observers record whether a nest is active and how many young were produced. While there, they band young more than 3 weeks old for future tracking.
Weather plays an important role in how successful every nesting season is for ospreys, according to the report.
There were strong storms during the peak nesting period of late June to early July 2016 that killed some nestlings, the state said.
On June 21, 2016, a “microburst” struck lower Cape May County with 80 mph gusts of wind and heavy downpours. It particularly affected the Wildwood osprey colony, the report said.
As a result of that storm, the program has decided to conduct more preventive maintenance to osprey nesting platforms to help ensure they can withstand high winds.