By Alex Kowalski
PBN Staff Writer
SMITHFIELD – Volunteers for the Rhode Island Audubon Society’s Osprey Monitoring Program reported 178 successfully fledged young in 2012, the highest number in the program’s 35 year history.
When the widespread use of the DDT pesticide nearly killed off the sea hawk, also known as the Opsrey, only 12 active nests remained in the Ocean State. That was in 1978, six years after the DDT ban. The fish-eating avian, and Roger Williams University mascot, seemed to be on its last wing.
In 1977, the Rhode Island Audubon Society began working to bring the Osprey back. It joined the Osprey Monitoring Program, a network of volunteer birdwatchers and conservationists who have watched Osprey nests going on four decades. Last year, the program reported that the fledged young Osprey population had grown to 178, their highest number ever. At the start of the program, there were just 13.
DDT was legally banned in 1972, due in part to lobbying efforts by the Audubon Society and other environmental groups. Since then, Osprey populations have rebounded with “record-setting numbers” reported in 2012, said July Lewis, a volunteer coordinator for the RI Audobon Society.
Nature is interconnected, and the comeback of the Osprey is a success in part of the state’s improving environment. “Ospreys feed entirely on fish, so their health is closely tied to the health of Narragansett Bay and other aquatic environments. The return of the Osprey [in Rhode Island] is a true environmental success story,” said Lewis.
Volunteers reported 126 active nests, with each successful roost producing 1.4 young on average. The good fertility rate, well above replacement value, indicates that the population will likely continue to flourish. Ospreys tend to build their nests near bodies of water, and occasionally in cell towers. The monitoring effort can be made from home as well, using the Google Earth map tool at www.riosprey.info, which coordinates nest locations throughout state.
The society monitored 200 known nesting sites last year and is also in need of dedicated volunteers, who are encouraged to contact July Lewis at email@example.com or through the Audubon Society at 401- 949-5454, ext. 3044.