Keep looking up at towers and telephone poles and you will see more osprey than in years past as the population of young osprey on the North Fork has grown by about 50 percent over the last five years.
According to the Group for the East End, there were 198 active nests across the East End in 2014 and 301 active nests in 2018, resulting in a 47 percent increase of young produced over the five-year span. Additionally, The North Fork also has the densest population of breeding osprey, specifically in Southold Town.
There are 143 active known nest sites in town, with 60 of them on Fishers Island, Plum Island and Robins Island. Southold Town has nearly 50 percent of all osprey activity on the East End, the Group said. It is also the birthplace of 48 percent of all young.
Conversely, Riverhead has the lowest amount of nests, with 19 noted so far in 2018 with a little more than half were occupied. The Group said strong winds and surf due to Riverhead’s large shoreline frontage on the Long Island Sound contributes to the lower number of nests there.
The Group has been working with local organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, Eastern Long Island Audubon and North Fork Audubon, since 2014 gathering osprey breeding data in the five East End towns.
Of the 519 known sites, 420 of them were active or in potential use in 2018.
Nesting site data was collected each summer, with Southold averaging 196 nests over the five years. Southampton averages 106, 64 on Shelter Island, 28 in East Hampton and 12 in Riverhead.
Shelter Island also has the highest occupancy rate, the release said, at 80 percent. Comparatively, the five-year East End average is 69 percent.
But as the population increases, so do concerns. One such is the amount of birds nesting on utility poles.
“Nesting in trees we want, which is what some osprey once did, but nesting along electrical liens not so much,” Aaron Virgin, vice president of Group for the East End, said in a release. “I learn about a few instances each year, but PSEG has become a good partner by working with the local community to safely remove a nest and replace with a nesting platform disc.”
One example of this occurred in Flanders in April. One concern is that when osprey return to their nests with fish it could lead to electrical shortages, sparking fires and resulting in the death of a young bird unable to fly.
However, the increase in osprey has led to residents asking to erect manmade homes for the birds.
“On average I receive an inquiry a week seeking information about how to place an osprey pole on private property or to see if someone has the right habitat,” Mr. Virgin said in a release.
He added that the Group is particular about where poles can be placed as the goal is for birds to nest in natural places, such as trees or old boat docks and other natural places in disrepair.
“At some point it would be nice if osprey could make it on their own and with the current robust population we may be near that time,” he continued.
According to Mr. Virgin one of the main reasons for the increase in the birds is the changes in fishing regulations over the last decade, specifically regarding the amount of menhaden or “bunker” fish.
The recent increase of osprey on the East End has brought the birds into “species of special concern” distinction in 1995, which is its current status. The species was previously listed as endangered in 1976, and later began to rebound. Its distinction became “threatened” in 1983.