Ospreys in Back River get ‘nest calls’


Scientists studying impact of contaminants on fish-eating birds.

Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

5:57 PM EDT, July 9, 2012

Perched atop a weathered navigational marker near Rocky Point in Back River, the osprey shifted nervously, screeched and flew off as a boat full of people approached. With the raptor circling overhead, Rebecca Lazarus climbed onto the marker and peered into its nest, a tangled heap of tree branches and scraps of plastic.

“She’s got one chick in here,” called out Lazarus, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, College Park. The osprey had laid two eggs, but only one hatched. The 3-week-old chick hunkered down to avoid detection, camouflaged by its still-developing brown-and-white plumage.

Lazarus and Barnett A. Rattner, a veteran scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, have been paying “nest calls” every 10 days or so since March on all the ospreys in Back River. They’re trying to figure out why the “fish hawks,” as they’re sometimes called, aren’t doing so well there.

Ospreys thrive across much of the Chesapeake Bay region. They have rebounded since the banning in the 1970s of DDT and other pesticides blamed for hurting reproduction of many raptors, including bald eagles. The last bay wide osprey survey, in the 1990s, put the population at 3,500 nesting pairs, but that number has likely grown to 6,000 or 8,000, said Bryan D. Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William & Mary.

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