Conserve Wildlife Blog

Calling all Osprey Lovers!

July 6th, 2017

Citizen Scientists Needed to help collect data on nesting ospreys

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

Two young ospreys and an adult on a nest in Ocean County.

This year we are hoping to get a better estimate of the size and health of the osprey population in New Jersey. Up from only 50 pairs in the early 1970s to an estimated 600+ pairs today. Ospreys are an indicator species and as top tier predators, they show the effects of contaminants in the environment before many other long lived species. They are our new age “canary in the coal mine” so keeping tabs on the health of their population is key to assessing the health of our estuarine and marine ecosystems.

The last statewide Osprey Census occurred in 2013 and was performed successfully by Conserve Wildlife Foundation (CWF) and NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) releasing and publishing the known locations of osprey nests online on, a website dedicated to monitoring ospreys throughout the globe and their links to protecting aquatic habitats (where they find their main food source — fish). No biologists would ever think that releasing the locations of a species of raptor that is listed as threatened during the breeding season would be a good idea, but faced with huge state budget cuts, there was no other way to conduct a statewide census.

We are right in the middle of the osprey nesting season in New Jersey. Most nests have young that are around 3-4 weeks old and usually visible from a safe viewing distance. Other nests could still be incubating or have failed. For interested citizen scientists, getting involved is easy and will end up getting you hooked on watching ospreys… 🙂 Below we will describe where we are in need of valuable nest activity data and how to determine if a nest is active or failed.

Active osprey nest. Here we can see that the female is incubating eggs.

Active or Not?

Simply put, an active nest is one with a nesting pair. A structure with only one adult and no nesting material is just a perch and can’t be called a nest (males tend to perch away from the nest to feed after a successful hunt). Usually, there is always one adult on the nest if they have any young. If there are young in the nest then when they get to be around 3 weeks old, they are visible from a distance. It’s important to note that under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you approach the nest too closely to determine how many young are in the nest. A safe distance to watch a nest is one where the adults do not see you as a threat. You can tell this is when they recognize and look directly at you. If this happens then they will call (defensively) to warn their young and mate and then the young will play dead and not be visible anymore. Some nesting ospreys are more tolerant to disturbance than others, so the distance to nests will vary depending on human activity around the nest…

A failed nest is usually more difficult to determine. It helps to have had knowledge of the nesting pair from the beginning of the nesting season in April. Were they sitting on eggs? Are they off the nest now and not shading or brooding young? Generally speaking, if a nest is active and has young, then the adult will always be on or near the nest to protect the young. If the adults fly off the nest for hours at a time, then it is not active or has failed.

Once you make your observations, write them down and visit from your computer at home. From there you need to create a login (if you haven’t already) and then you browse the map to find the nest you surveyed and then input your sightings. If the nest you watched is not on the map then you can map your nest and input activity data. If a nest on the map is gone, please write down the # on OW or a map below and email me. All data collected online will be used by us to help determine the overall size of the state population!

Areas where we are lacking data:

N. Jersey along D. River.

N. Jersey above Trenton on D. River.

Burlington Twp.

Camden area along D. River.

Carney’s Point along D. River



PSE&G – Salem Generating Station.


Union Beach

Cliffwood Beach & Laurence Harbor

Cheesequake State Park.

Manasquan Reservoir.

Check out some photos from our surveys so far:


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3 Responses to “Calling all Osprey Lovers!”

  1. phyllis douglass says:

    Hi Ben – I am reporting on the platform nests on Cape Island Creek in my backyard. We have two nests with at least two babies in each nests. I think the one on our side of the creek has three heads popping up to be feed. Hard to see cause I am getting older and the eyes are not what they used to be. But I am enjoying this good sign of life in Cape May and thank you for the platforms. Thanks for the joy that these birds bring to us!!!

  2. phyllis douglass says:

    thanks for the joy of osprey watching!

  3. Ben says:

    Hey Phyllis, Sorry for the delay! I did survey nests in Cape May Harbor and the Wildwoods this summer. I was thinking about you when I visited your nest, which did have three young! Here they are! Grandmapd osprey nest 2017

    I’ll be visiting again sometime this winter since one side of the platform top is missing (west side) and it could use a new predator guard. Thank you for your wonderful support of our work to monitor and manage them! 🙂 Take care, Ben