Conserve Wildlife Blog

Photos from the Field

July 22nd, 2020

Grounded: Resurgence of natural osprey nests

by Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager

A ground nest with three young. photo by Ben Wurst

It’s not very common to see ospreys, a large predatory bird, nest on the ground. Despite the rarity of these sightings, it has become more common and acts as a glimpse into the past (and future), before humans dominated the landscape. Today, more and more ospreys are building nests on the ground and snags over water.

These nests are where ospreys have nested for generations. They find a structure on the marsh, like a branch, dead tree, and now an old dock or even a crab pot, and begin building a nest. Many might think that these are dangerous nest sites for the birds to raise young. They most certainly are, but in most cases they do quite well. They need a perfect recipe for success — no human disturbance, no severe weather events, no ground predators, and plentiful prey.

A nest on a snag over water. photo by Ben Wurst

In certain areas, like on Barnegat Bay, we are getting a glimpse of the future with rising sea levels. As high water levels erode shorelines and high marsh/forest edges areas with woody vegetation, they will create a vast amount of potential nest sites for ospreys. As we have documented inside Barnegat Inlet, trees wash away during nor’easters and tropical storms and end up on sandbars and shallow flats. That is where ospreys see them as magical places to nest over water, which gives them protection from (ground) predators.

A new nest is formed on a snag that washed up on shallow flats inside Barnegat Inlet. photo by Ben Wurst

As we wrap up nest surveys for ospreys, we are delighted to see how these magnificent birds are adapting to nest along our heavily developed coast. They continue to highlight the health of our coastal environment. We ask all boaters and curious onlookers to keep a safe distance from these nests. As young get to the age when their feathers are fully developed (7-8 weeks old) than they are more vulnerable to disturbance. It is important to not push birds to take their first flight before they are ready, especially at nests over water. To report disturbance at an active nest, call 1-877-WARN-DEP.

The beginning of a new ground nest. photo by Ben Wurst
A new ground nest with three young. photo by Ben Wurst
A sandbar nest that has been successful for several years on Barnegat Bay. photo by Ben Wurst

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