Conserve Wildlife Blog

Second Chances: Osprey Nestlings Fostered

July 6th, 2020

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

Summer is here. As we reach the peak of the osprey nesting season in New Jersey, we conduct surveys to monitor their overall nest success and health of the state wide population. These surveys are conducted by specially trained volunteers who devote much time to ensure ospreys have a future in New Jersey. These surveys have been conducted every year since the early 1970s and are crucial to track any possible downturn in a colony, watershed or region of the state. Ospreys are a very important indicator of the health of the environment in which they live. This is especially important in coastal areas where they support a booming shore economy that is built around clean water and abundant marine/estuarine ecosystems.

You never know what you might find while out on an osprey survey. With around 700 nesting pairs and close to 500 that are surveyed each summer, odd finds or nest issues will arise. Late last week, one of our long time volunteer osprey banders, Bill Stuempfig and his assistant, Joe Hayburn found a dead adult female near an active nest with two young near Longport. They watched the nest carefully after getting in touch with me to figure out a plan for those nestlings, which now had lost the parent who remains with them at all times until after they fledge. The male does all the foraging, so he would be gone for several hours while they remain exposed to the elements. We are not sure of the cause of death of the female but we hope to have a necropsy performed at some point. She was banded as a nestling on July 9, 2007 on Long Island, NY.

The plan was to foster the young into other nests. The key aspect of this is to find nests with only 1-2 young that are very close in age. Luckily, I had surveyed the Absecon/AC area and had two nests with only one nestling that were the same age. A perfect match!

The next day Bill and Joe collected the young ospreys and Joe transported the young birds to the Absecon Boat Ramp, where he met me and my kids. We went out to both nests and successfully fostered the young into their new homes.

Fostering young into nests like this is not something that we do a lot, but it is known to work. The decision is not taken lightly, since it puts more burden on the foster nest and adult ospreys. When we do this we usually follow up by monitoring the nest after fostering to ensure they are safe and being cared for. Whenever we band at a nest and especially foster young, we leave fresh caught menhaden to help offset our disturbance and the increase in mouths to feed.

That happened on June 25-26. Then on Saturday, June 27, we received notification that an adult osprey was dead on the side of the Garden State Parkway, near Exit 50. The adult was found next to a large GSP exit sign that had a nest atop it. The nest was new last year and this was the first year that the pair produced young. This nest was loved by many commuters on the GSP who hoped for their success even though it was in a risky location along a busy highway. I responded to multiple notifications of the bird by drivers and recovered the bird that afternoon.

I quickly determined that she was indeed the female from the nest on the Exit 50 sign and that there were three young in the nest. I watched with my kids, as we sat parked on the shoulder of the Parkway in my truck, to see if the male was around and would return to the nest. He finally returned after 30 minutes and had no prey to feed his three hungry young. Like the previously mentioned nest, we now needed to do the same thing and collect the young and then foster them into other nests. This would take more than just a ladder since the birds were atop a tall Exit sign.

During the time spent watching the nest I was calling NJ Turnpike Authority and NJ State Police to try and get to the right person. After calling several hotlines, explaining the unique situation many times, and being transferred a half dozen times, I finally got connected with a NJTA Operations staff member who deployed NJTA staff with a large bucket truck! He said they would be there within an hour. During that time I went back to my house (I live right down the road) and made sure this was indeed a female, bagged her and put her in my chest freezer and then grabbed equipment to grab the young and hold them over night. I was also thinking about how to feed them over the next 12-24 hours…

The NJTA crew came around an hour from when I called and they helped me collect all three young from the nest. The adult male at this nest was no where to be found and it was easy to see that these young ospreys were starving to death without him foraging for them (he was likely in shock and mourning the loss of his mate). My family and I already had plans to survey local nests on the Mullica River but now we had another mission — to find matching foster homes for three 5 week old osprey nestlings!

On Sunday morning our mission began. By the 8th nest check, we found the perfect nest to place the first (Collin) of three nestlings, a nest on the Mullica River, only 1.25 miles from the Exit 50 sign. It only had one nestling that was very close in age. Then we set out to find a home for the second nestling, Akimbo. We found one on Nacote Creek, only 1.8 miles from the Exit 50 sign! This nest only had one nestling, so we left one here.

Now we had to travel further away to find a home for the third nestling, Wolf. We did not find another nest with young that were around the same age, so we tried placing him at a nest with no young but with adults present. That ended up failing after the adults saw us place in the nest and then they left the area. We figured that this might not work but wanted to give it a try. We ended up collecting Wolf and then brought to the nest where we fostered Akimbo on Nacote Creek. That was our backup plan and it worked perfectly.

A couple days later I went back to check on both foster nests and all looked well! Two young were observed in Collin’s nest and three in Akimbo & Wolf’s nest. All in all, both of these fostering went extremely well! I can’t thank all of our supporters and donors enough for your continued support during these strange times!

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8 Responses to “Second Chances: Osprey Nestlings Fostered”

  1. Rick Weiman says:

    Great work finding homes for these chicks. Very inspiring story.

  2. Lisa Kennedy says:

    What an incredible report, Ben. You guys are all fantastic! Well done to you, and your family and everyone involved in fostering these little guys. They are so lucky they were found. Terribly sad though about the adult females. I hope the little Ospreys thrive under the care of their new parents. Will you check on them one more time? Thanks for all you do!

  3. debora conrad says:

    Great news about the young chicks. We have a nest on the cove behind our houses in Ventnor. You or one of your volunteers may have checked it recently. Neighbors were concerned when it was checked because we are always on alert for boaters getting too near or interfering with nest. They did not see any official shirt or sign on your boat so they were cautioning to stay away. But then told they were with wildlife check. Signage would be great for all to notice that you are official. 4 of 5 nests are active in our area. Great to follow. Thank you for your dedication.

  4. Ben says:

    Hi Debora, Thank you for the positive praise! If the people your neighbors saw had a ladder and went up to an active nest, then it was our volunteer who was mentioned in my post. He uses his own boat and donates his time to monitor the ospreys from Pleasantville south to Strathmere. They do have shirts that they can wear to show that they are official, but might not always wear them. I don’t always wear my official shirt either, but am happy to see when people are concerned over the safety of their birds. I always take time to talk to them to educate them about what we do and why it’s important. 🙂

  5. Ben says:

    Thank you! It’s been a busy start to summer. I will definitely be checking on them again this week to make sure all is well. I appreciate the support!

  6. Ben says:

    Thanks, Rick!

  7. Barb McKee says:

    What a nice article and a wonderful, worthwhile activity to do as a family during the pandemic! How fortunate to give these osprey chicks second chances!

  8. Maryann Martin says:

    Hello to a very dedicated crew including Ben & family,
    My oldest son graduated Stockton, so my family is very aware of ospreys. Last year 2019, my 4yr old grandson Declan & I viewed the Barnegat Light webcam religiously.
    He loved it from building the nest to winter migration. Declan, his father & uncle even met you at the Sedge Island kids event. He was excited when he came home to tell me. His clams he harvested fueled his excitement.
    Of course, we couldn’t wait until March of this year. Besides we must have missed what gender the 3 fledglings are after you tagged them.
    This might seem a silly question, but Declan wanted to know. Anyway, my grandson would like to know if we donate money, does he get his name on the pole. I intend to make a donation, but he said he wants to give some of his money in his bank.
    Longtime resident of Manahawkin & with LBI knowledge,
    Maryann Martin