Osprey’s Journey is a two-year research project tracking the migrations of two adult male Ospreys from their nesting sites at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens, NY to their winter grounds in the Caribbean or South America. The goal is to cultivate stewardship of the refuge — part of the largest open space in the city — engage new audiences with its wildlife, and discover more about the majestic Ospreys that call the refuge home.
The project is being conducted by the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy (Harbor Conservancy) and Gateway National Recreation Area in association with consulting scientist Dr. Bob Kennedy from the Maria Mitchell Association, and is supported by a generous grant from Harbor Conservancy board member Coleman P. Burke.
Ospreys utilize Jamaica Bay’s many nesting platforms in spring and summer to incubate eggs and raise offspring, which we know from direct observation. But how do the Ospreys interact with the built environment around them? Does the local ecosystem successfully support these birds of prey or do they need to journey long distances to hunt? And what does their health tell us about the presence of pollutants in the environment, which tend to bioaccumulate in animals at the top of the food chain, such as Ospreys? Finally, how do these birds migrate and what are their hunting habits while away from Jamaica Bay? These are critical questions, and we hope the project can begin to shed light on the answers.
Our original plan was to outfit one male Osprey from a breeding pair with a satellite transmitter and follow his localized hunting trips and yearly migrations over two years. But as events unfolded, the project took an unexpected turn, and we ended up transferring the transmitter to a different Osprey after approximately one year.
The first bird, dubbed “Coley” after the project’s funder, was equipped with his one-ounce solar-powered GPS transmitter on May 2, 2012. The device was secured with a Teflon ribbon, which held it in place like a backpack. Read more about the banding effort in The New York Times.
After tagging Coley, we collected data on his movements and whereabouts for twelve hours a day. We also observed him in the field through the summer, during which he successfully raised three chicks with his mate.
His migration south began on September 10th, 2012. In just 17 days, he traveled 2,600 miles to Bird Marsh in Colombia, South America, where he made his winter home. His mate migrated separately, as Ospreys do, and wintered in parts unknown.
We had a bit of a scare in the early days of Coley’s Colombian sojourn when the satellite records showed very little movement. But it seems he was in fish-rich territory, and was able to feed himself without traveling far. On May 5th, 2013, later than expected, he began the return journey. Fifteen days and 7 hours later, he reached the nest, reuniting with his mate, who had gotten there first. His first year was chronicled in another New York Times story.
Just as we were settling in to Year 2 with Coley, a loose strap was observed on his GPS pack. Dr. Kennedy felt it was necessary to remove the pack for Coley’s safety, and it was agreed that we would place it on a new male. This was achieved on May 15, 2013. The new bird is called Coley II, or C2 for short.
We are continuing to keep an eye on Coley (I) while he remains in Jamaica Bay. (As of this writing, he is helping to raise a new family.) But once he migrates, we will lose sight of him until spring. Meanwhile, we will be keeping close tabs on our new friend, C2.
In its first year, this project captured the imaginations of people near and far. We hope it continues to do so in Year 2 and that it encourages us all to become more aware of the nature that can be found outside of our windows, even in the most densely populated city in the country.
Dr. Bob Kennedy is a Senior Research Fellow at the Maria Mitchell Association on Nantucket, and a Scientific Advisor to the Harbor Conservancy. 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 in Ospreys particularly over the past 10 years on Nantucket. He has previously satellite tracked two Ospreys from Nantucket with colleague Dr. Rob Bierregaard.
Dave Taft is the Coordinator of the Jamaica Bay Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area, and has in the past been the site manager at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. He is a frequent contributor to the Hudson River Almanac, and proponent of urban plant and wildlife and its value to residents of New York City as well as its visitors. His examinations of outdoor subjects in essays and illustration have been published in The New York Times, by the American Orchid Society, Stackpole Books, and several venues. Currently a resident of eastern Long Island, Mr. Taft grew up in Canarsie in Brooklyn where he explored the wetlands and woodlands of Jamaica Bay just prior to Gateway’s establishment as a National Park Service site in 1972.
Don Riepe serves as Jamaica Bay Guardian for the American Littoral Society and in that capacity helps monitor and preserve the health of the bay and its wildlife, including the Ospreys.
Sheryl Eisenberg and Lori Gomes of Mixit Productions designed and maintain the Osprey’s Journey website and have been editing it since the start of Year 2. Mixit has designed and produced content for numerous environmental and other websites since 1994.
Lindsay Burtchell was the Editor of Osprey’s Journey for the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy for the first year of the project, while overseeing a variety of recreational and environmental programs as the Harbor Conservancy’s Program Manager for Gateway National Recreation Area. She has her BA in Biology from Boston University.
Blanca Begert co-edited Osprey’s Journey for part of the project’s second year, while serving as the Harbor Conservancy’s Program Coordinator for educational and recreational programs in Gateway National Recreation Area. She graduated from Brown University with a BA in Comparative Literature.
Colleen Sorbera worked as a National Park Service Park Ranger at Gateway National Recreation Area for three years beginning in June 2010, having worked previously in New York State and Town of Hempstead parks. Birds of prey are one of her first loves, and she appreciated every opportunity she gets to assist with the raptor banding program on Jamaica Bay. As a member of Gateway’s Interpretation and Education Division, Colleen spent a lot of time presenting nature programs to park visitors on topics ranging from winter waterfowl to horseshoe crabs.