Banding Osprey

Last week I had the good fortune to attend an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) banding on Nantucket island with people from the Maria Mitchell Association.
There were three youngsters in this nest, one down from the original four hatched earlier. Unfortunately, it has not been a good season for nesting osprey on the island; fish, the osprey’s almost exclusive food source, isn’t as plentiful as usual.
Each nestling was brought down one at a time to be banded and measured. The youngsters played dead on the blanket as their parents flew overhead. The parents were pissed, as you might be.
All bird banding, or ringing as they call it across the puddle, in the U.S is done under the auspices of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Most bands are never found. But if you do find one, you can report it by phone or the website linked above.
Osprey plunge down into ponds, lakes, and bays to snag fish with these amazing claws. Most perching birds have anisodactyl toes, a pattern of three forward and one rear, but osprey have zygodactyl toes, two forward and two back, the better for grabbing slippery fish. Osprey also have special pads that help maintain their grip.
A class of first graders was along for the banding. One of the teachers holds the bird here. This class named an adult osprey “Senior Bones” when he was hooked up to a transmitter earlier. Over the last year, another local osprey was tracked via satellite from the island to Brazil and back.

Osprey are one of the largest birds of prey. They are found everywhere but Antarctica, and a visitor to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge here in NYC will find two nesting poles that are used regularly, including this breeding season. The species, as a top predator, was severely reduced by DDT (poisoning and egg-shell thinning) but has made something of a comeback since the 1970s. One reason is all the artificial structures we humans have put up, intentionally or not, that they can use as nests platforms. Note that the pole pictured above also hosts a barn owl box.
This nest site is just outside Lewis Bay in Hyannis, Mass., in Nantucket Sound; the image was captured as I took the “fast boat” back to the mainland. A marker for those nasty looking rocks, it’s an example of an unintentional nest site. Very familiar with osprey poles up and down the Atlantic seaboard, I’ve never seen an osprey nest “at sea” before.

2 Responses to “Banding Osprey”


  1. 1 Out walking the dog June 28, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Very cool, Matthew. Those talons are something!


  1. 1 Osprey | Backyard and Beyond Trackback on November 29, 2019 at 7:47 am

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