Osprey Platform to Help Seahawk Population Soar

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As spring's warm air returns — albeit slowly —  so, too do the majestic seahawks, ending their long, intercontinental journey at their summer home along the East Bay.

Each March, ospreys who had flown as far as South America to wait out the winter, return to patrol the cooler waters of Rhode Island. The formerly endangered raptors' numbers have been growing in Rhode Island in recent years, especially along the East Bay, at least partly thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of volunteers who monitor their numbers and create attractive places for the birds to call home.

"They're remarkable birds. It's easy to get excited about them," said local osprey watcher Michael Gerhardt. "It's satisfying to see people interested in the birds. They were almost extinct."

They are making a comeback, with their numbers increasing in Rhode Island every year, Mr. Gerhardt said. Now, with any luck, there will be a new family of ospreys hunting the waters around Bristol from a new nest on the Audubon Society property along Hope Street.

Mr. Gerhardt, along with photographer Butch Lombardi of the Warren Conservation Commission and a group of volunteers, built a new osprey platform in the woods of the Audubon Society Sunday, giving a new home to the next pair of nesting seahawks that come around. The new platform, built on rails high between two dead trees, is visible from the Audubon Society observation area and a portion of the East Bay Bike Path. Should nesting birds take up residence, the pair may be visible from around the world. The group is hoping to install a web cam so all can learn how the predatory birds live.

"There's no guarantee it will attract ospreys, but we hope it will," Mr. Gerhardt said. "Last year, we noticed birds from the Land Trust sites perching on trees in that area."

The Warren Land Trust sites are among 209 osprey sites the Audubon Society monitors. Last year, the society counted 168 successful osprey births, down slightly from 2012, but at 1.2 births per active nest, the numbers are still above the ideal average to indicate population growth. Visit the Audubon Society's osprey monitoring site to follow the bird population's progress.

To increase the likelihood of a attracting nesting pair, the volunteer group designed the platform between two trees - providing needed perches nearby - near the water where they hunt, and away from people and other osprey nests. Aluminum sheeting the group plans to install around the trees will help keep away the raccoons and fisher cats that like dining on osprey eggs.

Should the group be lucky enough to attract another nesting pair — which live an average of 30 years in the wild — bird watchers in the area should be able to enjoy them for a generation. "The East Bay is a big area for them," Mr. Gerhardt said. "Assuming they survive the round trip to Columbia, they always return to the same nest."

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.