Conserve Wildlife Blog

The Story of Osprey 52/K

December 15th, 2022

by Ben Wurst / Habitat Program Manager

Osprey 52/K. September 5, 2022. Photo by Chris Kelly.

In 2014, we began to band osprey nestlings produced at nests within the Barnegat Bay watershed with auxiliary bands. This was an effort which came about from the interest of Jim Verhagen, a LBI resident and wildlife biographer. He wondered why young ospreys were not banded with color, field readable bands, like some endangered raptors, including bald eagles and peregrine falcons. This spawned Project RedBand, an osprey banding and re-sighting project. The goal of the project was to learn more about ospreys when they are alive while engaging coastal residents in their management. Just under 500 young ospreys were banded with red auxiliary bands from 2014-2020 from nests all along the Barnegat Bay estuary.

Now we are focused on obtaining re-sightings of adult ospreys who are returning to their natal areas along the New Jersey coast. Over the last few years, around 20-30 red banded ospreys have been re-sighted each year — with the majority being sightings of live birds. When a red banded osprey is re-sighted, then we can learn about their life history, including their age, dispersion, and sometimes their wintering habits. In addition, there is always a story to tell, which is an important aspect for engaging the community in their management and conservation. Here is the story of osprey 52/K.

Over a weekend in early July, 2019, I received notice that a communications tower at East Dover Fire Company in Toms River needed emergency access for critical repairs by a cell network provider. The tower hosted a pair of nesting ospreys who had young in the nest. To access the tower and nest that contained young ospreys, the contractors needed to obtain permission from NJDEP Fish & Wildlife and a permit from USDA Wildlife Services but they also needed someone with raptor handling experience. This was an opportunity that I could not pass up!

After permits were acquired and agreements signed, I visited the site with the cell contractors. We worked in the early morning, to avoid the hottest part of the day. A crane was used to hoist us to the top of the 150′ high tower, where the osprey nest was located. The nest contained three nestlings who were around 5-6 weeks old. I was left at the nest to shade the young as the contractors began working on the communications equipment.

As they inspected the equipment, it was determined that it would take longer than anticipated, so I decided to remove the young from the nest and bring them down to the ground. This would reduce stress to them and the adults, who were flying around the nest. While the young were with me, they were all banded for future tracking with both a federal and red auxiliary band — 50/K, 51/K & 52/K. After being on the ground for around an hour, they were safely placed back in their nest (with two fish) and the adults returned to care for them.

Fast forward to this September, we received a re-sighting report from photographer, Chris Kelly, who photographed osprey 52/K near his home in Wall Township. She was hanging at a small pond (Old Mill Pond) that he regularly visits, since it is also a place where he sees bald eagles. This sighting was the first of 52/K since being banded. His photos clearly show a distinct necklace of brown feathers which indicate that she’s a female. What also solidifies this is the fact that she was observed far away from her natal area. From all of the red band re-sightings that we have received in New Jersey, our data shows that males return to nest in very close proximity to their natal areas (within a few miles) and females wander.

Osprey 52/K in flight. See the dark necklace of feathers? September 5, 2022. Photo by Chris Kelly.

Not quite sure if 52/K is nesting yet, since she is only 3 years old, but this re-sighting helps us to determine where she might nest in the future. As a young adult, she is likely looking for suitable areas with plentiful prey to hone in on a nest site. She may try to usurp another resident female or establish her own nest, possibly on a communications tower. Either way, this re-sighting was a special one as it shows that ospreys can co-exist with communications equipment and maintenance of those structures, as long as the young are protected from unregulated disturbance. Those who are aware of ospreys nesting on communications towers should report nest activity on Osprey Watch every year. If you see an occupied nest being disturbed, then please report to 1-877-WARN-DEP.

Special thanks to Chris Kelly for reporting his re-sighting of 52/K! We hope to obtain some more red bands at some point in the future when the manufacturer accepts new orders. For now, we will continue to seek re-sightings of red banded ospreys to learn more about them and engage more residents in their management.

>> Learn more about Project RedBand

>> Donate to support our work with ospreys in New Jersey

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8 Responses to “The Story of Osprey 52/K”

  1. Harold Wilcox says:

    I always enjoy reading my emails from CONSERVE WILDLIFE. Keep up your great work!

  2. Ben Wurst says:

    Thanks, Harold! Really appreciate your support! Happy holidays!!

  3. Kathy Dinsmore says:

    It is great to hear follow-up stories! I always enjoy reading these posts. Thank you for your work!

  4. George S says:

    Great story Ben, I see that Old Mill Pond is about 13 1/2 miles north of her original nest at the East Dover Fire Company. Welcome back 52/K!

  5. Diane Henry says:

    Ben, thank you for the wonderful work you do for the Osprey. Love reading about the birds and your adventures in the field. Off to make my donation!

  6. George Draney says:

    Years ago while driving Old Mine Road from Route 80 after a winter snowstorm that brought freezing temperatures and left over a foot of snow, me and my trusted 4 wheels, drove past the ice cycle one way northward following the plowed roadway towards route 15 an adventure not to many people take right after a surprise storm as they had here 20 something years ago. I go back to writing my Congressmen about Tocks Island’s eutrophication of the oxygen in the water. We stopped all that rightly so, but this day two bottles of water and a sandwich from home I scanned the tree line of the Delaware River that day. In a high tree, I spotted a male and female Osprey Confused and Frightened, I knew then Chemical Ingestion may have caused them not to migrate and to have them return to New Jersey someone needed to care. Planet Earth ( Circle Of Man ) George Draney, Nutley, NJ

  7. Ben Wurst says:

    Glad to hear it and your support is greatly appreciated!! Happy New Year!

  8. Ben Wurst says:

    These stories are fun to share, so I am happy that they are well received! 🙂