Once severely endangered, the number of ospreys in New Jersey continues to increase.

A record-breaking 932 ospreys were counted in 2018 in the Garden State, according to a report by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. The prior year, 892 were counted.

Researchers also found 589 active osprey nests in New Jersey, 423 of them in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties. The report attributed favorable weather to the nesting success.

“Weather always plays a role in the nesting success of coastal nesting raptors like the osprey,” the report states.

Also called sea hawks, ospreys are most common around coastal estuaries and salt marshes, and near where large numbers of fish live.

The birds have steadily rebounded since they were put on the state’s endangered species list in 1973, when there were only 50 nesting pairs left. The widespread use of the pesticide DDT in South Jersey had led to their near demise, according to the foundation.

Their re-emergence in New Jersey over the past four decades can be attributed to the banning of DDT and to biologists reintroducing healthy osprey eggs from other areas of the country to New Jersey’s coast.

“They used nests elsewhere to jump-start these birds,” said Ben Wurst, habitat program manager for the Conserve Wildlife Foundation.

Despite their increasing numbers, the bird remains on the state’s threatened species list.

And last year, researchers noted another danger to the birds.

Plastics collect along the edges of marshes and beaches, where ospreys gather nesting material. As a result, almost every nest in New Jersey contains plastic, the researchers found, posing a risk to the birds.

“They can’t discern between man-made plastics and natural materials similar in shape,” Wurst said. “It could potentially kill them.”

In 2018, several ospreys were found entangled in monofilament or plastic line. Some died, while a few others were rescued and untangled.

Wurst’s group plans to collect data this year on the type and amount of plastics found in each nest.

Contact: 609-272-7258 azoppo@pressofac.com Twitter @AvalonZoppo

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