Nowhere is the success of Ohios wildlife diversity efforts more evident than in the reintroduction of the osprey, an eagle-like bird of prey once extinct in our state.
Record numbers of ospreys or fish hawks are nesting this year across the Buckeye state thanks to management efforts by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).
Our aim is to increase Ohio's wildlife diversity by reintroducing a species of bird that was once here," said Michael Budzik, chief of ODNRs Division of Wildlife. With 14 osprey pair already nesting in Ohio, we are well on our way to achieving our target goal of 20 nesting pairs by 2010.
Of the 14 nesting pairs, 12 successfully incubated eggs. Wildlife biologists are still counting chicks, but they know at least 14 have hatched. The young birds will fledge (leave the nest) in three to four weeks.
These magnificent gray-white birds feature 3 to 5-foot wingspans and live much the same kind of lifestyles as their more famous raptor relatives, bald eagles. They hover high above a lake or river, searching for fish cruising near the surface. Once they spot a prospective meal, they fold their wings and dive, hitting the water talons-first. The bottoms of an osprey's feet are equipped with short, sharp spines to help with gripping and carrying its slippery prey.
Ospreys construct sturdy twig and branch nests in abandoned trees high above inland lakes and streams, where they can feast on a bounty of their favorite fish delicacies. Most nests are in the northeastern part of the state. However, areas such as Alum Creek State Park in Delaware County and Deer Creek Wildlife Area in Fayette County each have osprey nests this year.
Once plentiful along Ohios waterways, ospreys gradually disappeared. The last known breeding pair was seen near Grand Lakes Saint Marys in 1913. Loss of habitat and the use of pesticides such as DDT through the first half of the 20th Century contributed to the demise of ospreys in Ohio.
Then in 1996, the ODNR Division of Wildlife began a reintroduction project to restore this native species back into Ohio. Each summer, state biologists import several dozen osprey chicks from Maryland, Virginia or Maine, where the birds are plentiful. At six to seven weeks of age, groups of chicks are placed in "hack" boxes, 3-foot by 3-foot wire-and-frame structures, perched 20 to 30 feet high on towers at five different wildlife areas around the state.
Wildlife staffers feed the chicks fresh or frozen fish through a door on the hack box. When the chicks are ready to fledge, the door is opened and the young ospreys are set free. Inexperienced at first in the art of angling, the fledglings receive continued support from staffers who leave fish on top of the hack box. As their fishing skills improve, the young ospreys begin feeding on their own. Eventually, they leave their hacking area and make the long migration to South America, where they live for a few years to mature and hone their fishing skills.
At age three or four, ospreys reach breeding maturity and return to their northern nesting areas to seek a mate and "stake out" an appropriate site to raise their young. A year of careful scouting in one area may precede the actual construction of a nest where the female osprey lays two to three eggs. Ospreys take their parenting seriously, selecting long-term mates and returning to the same nest site year after year.
You can take a personal role in bringing back the osprey to Ohio and in restoring other wildlife species, through the purchase of wildlife conservation plates (featuring either a cardinal or bald eagle) or through your contribution to the Ohio Income Tax Check-off.
This summer, if youre out enjoying Ohios waterways and think you see an eagle flying high above, look again. It just might be an osprey!