Nauset Horizons

Ospreys, an Ecological Success Story

Carlisle Nash, Reporter

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As the Chatham fog settles and the July dawn breaks through, the world wakes up and the day starts. As Chatham residents head to Ryders Cove to go boating and clamming, they will drive past one of the many Marconi radio towers, and if they look up, they will see a  lone osprey gazing out at the harbor. This is its birth place, its home, and once summer ends, it will head south to out maneuver the cold.

The majestic bird above, known for its white plumage and predilection for fish, is the Osprey. These birds, after near extinction due to pesticide use, are now a conservation success story. The widespread use of the pesticide DDT, banned in 1972, prevented the development of osprey’s young by weakening their egg shells. After losing 90% of their population, they were able to make a drastic recovery with the ban on DDT in 1972.

In the 1950s, ospreys had almost completely vanished from the northeastern United States, only being found in southern states like Florida. Actually, the osprey, along with the Bald Eagle, had become of the of the first recognized endangered species under the 1966 Endangered Species Act. One local commented “I remember in the 50s, when the ospreys disappeared, going down to Florida and seeing them everywhere. It was amazing and I am glad they returned.” (George Reed) After the chemicals were banned, the numbers gradually rose to what we see today. Once again, ospreys nest on Cape Cod.

The Western Osprey is a popular bird in North America, found anywhere there is shallow water and plenty of fish. They are migratory birds, spending the summer in the northern US and southern Canada, while spending the winter in southern US and Mexico. To many locals, “they are the first sign of spring. When I see them diving, I feel I can relax.” Others go so far as to call it the real bird of Cape Cod, “I see perches all over the place now, in the 60s, we didn’t see any, now there’re cities of them” (John Smith).

These birds a part of Cape Cod’s landscape, James McCully commented “they’re beautiful; I like them a lot.” Often underrated, native to America. Their recovery is often used as a metaphor for survival and perseverance, making them a popular symbol as well as a memorable bird.


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Ospreys, an Ecological Success Story