Osprey, (Pandion haliaetus)
Osprey, also known as fish hawks, are one of Nantucket’s most iconic birds of prey. They nest predominantly on platforms erected adjacent to beaches and ponds. Although dead trees can serve as naturally-occurring nest sites, this species seems to prefer artificial structures such as nest platforms, cell phone towers, channel markers and utility poles. Recently on Nantucket, Osprey have been observed ground nesting on some of our beaches. Because these birds breed in such highly visible locations and are mostly tolerant of people being nearby, they are well known and and easy to observe!
Present on Nantucket: Spring – Fall
Osprey feed almost exclusively on fish harvested from our harbors and ponds. They have talons that are uniquely adapted to holding their prey aerodynamically in-line with their bodies to reduce drag in flight. Because of their preference for one type of prey, their populations were severely impacted by high concentrations of DDT (a pesticide that was widely used in 1950 – 1970) accumulating in the food chain. This chemical caused eggshell thinning and corresponding poor hatching success. Since DDT was banned in 1972, osprey populations have made a remarkable comeback and they are no longer considered an endangered species.
Some of the best places to observe osprey are in Sanford Farm and Ram Pasture as well as the UMASS Boston Nantucket Field Station.
Prepared by: Karen C. Beattie, NCF Science and Stewardship Staff
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I’ve been kayaking in Polpis Harbor several times recently and twice saw 3 pairs of osprey; glorious aerial displays and wheeling and plummeting into the water emerging with fish!!