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Osprey - April Species of the Month

The osprey (Pandion haliaetus) was the April 2003 Species of the Month in honor of the 30th Anniversary of the New Jersey Endangered Species Conservation Act and Osprey headthe formation of DEP's Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP).

The osprey is a large raptor (bird of prey) usually seen near bodies of water that support adequate fish populations. In the 1800s, there was an abundant breeding population of osprey along the New Jersey coast and near most fresh water bodies. Pesticide contamination and habitat loss gradually reduced the annual number of osprey nesting pairs throughout this past century. In fact, osprey populations plummeted from 500 pairs in the 1950s to 68 pairs in 1975. The species became one of the first to be included on the New Jersey Endangered Species List.

The state's osprey population began to recover as nesting success improved and the number of nesting pairs increased each year. Due to its improved reproductive success, its acceptance of manmade nesting structures and the decline of persistent pesticides, the status of the osprey in New Jersey was changed from endangered to threatened in 1985 — the first species to be removed from the list. Department biologists and volunteers counted 340 nests in 2001 and banded 201 young osprey in their nests in 2002.

Banding chicks on tower
Banding chicks on tower

Banded chick on nest
Banded chick on nest

The Osprey -
Brought Back From "The Brink"

  • In the early 1900s, the number of reproductive osprey pairs began to decline due to habitat loss, the eradication of nest trees, egg collecting and shooting. This was compounded by increased human settlement along the coast later in the century.

  • Between 1946 through 1964, the pesticide DDT was introduced into the environment to combat mosquitoes. It entered the food chain and eventually contaminated predators like the osprey. The chemical weakened the thickness of osprey eggshells, which would break under the weight of the bird during incubation.

  • Osprey can experience reproductive failure over a long period of time because DDT contamination can remain in an adult osprey's body for years.

  • In 1979, the Endangered and Nongame Species Program transplanted eggs from healthy nests in the Chesapeake Bay area into New Jersey nests. Program staff also erected nesting platforms and began annual surveys to monitor osprey productivity.

  • The Department currently conducts an aerial survey of the state's osprey population every two years. They observe nests yearly and band many of the young osprey chicks while they are still in the nest.

Osprey – Facts of Interest

  • The osprey has a wingspan of 4.5 – 6 feet. It glides with its long, narrow wings pulled towards the body and, when viewed from the ground, resembles the shape of the letter "M".

  • The osprey's head is white with a broad, black eye stripe that extends to the back of the neck. The underside is white with flight and tail feathers that are dark brown with faint white bands.

  • Ospreys feed on fish and inhabit coastal rivers, marshes and bays, as well as rivers, lakes and reservoirs. They are known for their feet-first plunge into the water to catch their prey with their strong toes (or talons) that have spines on them to pierce the fish's skin.

  • Ospreys nest on live or dead trees, manmade nesting platforms, light poles, channel markers and other elevated structures that offer an unobstructed view of the landscape near and around a water body.

Biologist with banded chick
ENSP biologist with banded chick

Ways You Can Help
If you are interested in volunteering to observe osprey nests, check nest results, construct or erect new nesting platforms or help maintain existing ones, please contact ENSP biologist Kathy Clark at 609-628-2103 or

Ospreys on nest platform
Photo courtesy of Ken Walker

If you have observed an active osprey nest in inland areas, especially around the northern lakes and reservoirs in the state, please submit the sighting information to Mike Valent at 908-735-8975. This should be done only during nesting season (April 15 - July 15). Please remember – no one should approach a nest structure during the nesting season.

Check-off for Wildlife when completing your state tax return each year! This is a primary funding source for the preservation of the state's endangered and nongame wildlife.

Conserve Wildlife license plate
Order a Conserve Wildlife special interest license plate for your vehicle. It's tax-deductible, with 80% of the payment benefiting New Jersey's Endangered and Nongame Species Program.

Want to volunteer? Enjoy giving presentations? Looking for speakers? The Division of Fish and Wildlife offers two opportunities:The Endangered and Nongame Species Program's Speakers Bureau and the Division's Wildlife Conservation Corps. Visit these sites for details.

Additional Sources of Information
Nest on channel marker
Nest on channel marker
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Copyright © State of New Jersey, 1996-2004
Department of Environmental Protection
P. O. Box 402
Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

Last Updated: October 7, 2004