ornithologist retrieving osprey from trap

The Great Bay Discovery Center has been enjoying a pair of ospreys on the edge of the property for close to a decade now. For several years the pair successfully nested in a platform installed on a tall white pine rimming the edge of the saltmarsh.  And thanks to a generous donation from long-time volunteers and friends of the Discovery Center, a camera was installed on the nest in 2017.  Technical challenges and a strike of lightening from Mother Nature disabled the camera last summer before we could see the young fledge.

With the help of Monadnock Security Systems Inc., another camera was obtained for us and installed on a brand new pole now sitting in the marsh not far from the old nest.  A pair of ospreys incubating 3 eggs now occupy the new nest and yesterday, under ideal conditions, Reserve staff Beth Heckman and Kelle Loughlin joined Ornithologist Robert S. Kennedy, Ph.D (Bob) in the marsh to band the adult pair.  Along with them were Dan and Nancy Eckerson who helped to install the new platform and capture the banding with some stunning photography by Nancy!

According to Bob, this is his 50th year working with osprey after an impressive career (bio below) researching raptors all over the world including 20 years working in the Philippines with the Philippine Eagle.

From start to finish, it took about 45 minutes to capture, band and release both the female and the male. The pair was soon settled back on the nest and resumed typical behaviors within minutes. 

How do you catch a bird with a six foot wingspan?  Check out the images to see!  First, a screen with a series of micro-thin nooses is laid upon the nest as soon as the female flies off.  Within minutes the female landed again to resume incubation and her feet were quickly caught by the nooses.  Bob climbed the ladder to the nest, gently brought the osprey down, where Kelle Loughlin placed a small leather hood over the osprey’s head to calm the bird.  Beth Heckman then carried the bird to the pavilion area where Bob banded her and we watched for the male to land on the nest, his instincts strong to resume incubation for his mate.  The male was quickly caught and the process was repeated.  The wing spans of each were measured at 65 inches for the female and 63 for the male.  Beth noted that the male felt significantly lighter than the female as is typical.  An average weight of an osprey is just 3-4 pounds. (A can of Crisco shortening is 3 pounds).

At just 46 minutes, Beth released the male and the banding was complete!  In late June early July the young will be banded and Bob hopes to monitor the Great Bay populations of osprey moving forward. 

The camera should be up and running soon and education staff are working to develop curricula for learning about this impressive species and all of the factors that contribute to its survival, such as pollutants, climate change, available habitat and water quality.  Stay tuned for details on the live link once it is up and running.  Visit Greatbay.org to learn more about the Reserve and watch for the feed! 

Brief Biographical Sketch of Robert S. Kennedy, Ph.D. 

Dr. Bob Kennedy is a Senior Research Fellow at the Maria Mitchell Association on Nantucket, MA, and a Scientific Advisor to the Harbor Conservancy in New York.  He has been an ornithologist for over 50 years and has studied birds around the world.  He graduated from the College of William & Mary with a BA in 1970 and an MA in 1971, and from Louisiana State University with a Ph.D. in 1977.  He has held academic positions at Oklahoma State University, Washington State University, Yale University, University of Cincinnati, Harvard University, and University of Massachusetts Boston.  He has published over 50 scientific and popular articles on birds, including the definitive A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines published in 2000 by Oxford University Press.  He is an Elective Member and Fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union.  He began his studies of Ospreys in 1970 completing his Master’s Thesis on the Ospreys of Tidewater Virginia, and has continued his research interest with Ospreys particularly on Nantucket and now in the Great Bay Estuary in New Hampshire.  With Osprey colleague Dr. Rob Bierregaard, he has satellite tracked four Ospreys (two from Nantucket and two from Jamaica Bay, NY) and these studies are part of a broader, long-term program to understand the movements and migration of Ospreys nesting in the Northeastern USA. 

osprey flying
ornithologist carrying trap up to nest
ornithologist placing trap in nest
ornithologist retrieving osprey from trap
ornithologist holding osprey
male osprey close up
fish and gmae staff carrying osprey
fish and game staff holding hooded osprey
fish and game staff holding hooded osprey
ornithologist banding female osprey
ornithologist measuring wignspan of female osprey
ornithologist retrieving male osprey from trap
fish and game staff placing a hood on male osprey