There are so many things to love about spring; the delicate little snowdrops and crocuses poking bravely up through the dead grass and leaves, the fuzzy look the trees and bushes get as they begin to reawaken and put forth their buds and being joyfully awoken early each morning to the sweet and enthusiastic chipping of robins, finches, warblers and sparrows as they return in flocks to forage for insects and seeds, adding color and movement to the warming terrain. Spring means being able to walk the dogs in a light sweater and sneakers again and sit on the front stoop to drink ones morning tea or coffee in the sunlight, warming our bones after a long, cold winter. And here, on the Jersey Shore, one of the very best things about spring is that it heralds the return of the osprey!
There are an estimated 560 nesting pairs of osprey in NJ, from as far north as the Meadowlands but mostly along the coast from Sandy Hook down to Cape May with nesting platforms as far inland as the rivers reach. Osprey couples, like swans mate for life, but unlike swans, they spend more than half of that time apart, wintering separately. Perhaps that is the secret to a successful marriage; spring and summer raising the kids together and then vacationing with your fellow females in the rainforests of French Guiana while your male companions choose to congregate no farther south than Cuba.
It is no surprise that many osprey couples are given names by the people who welcome their familiar
silhouettes back to their platforms during mid to late March each year. Here in Monmouth Beach we are always delighted when first “Ollie” returns from his shorter journey, joined within days by the exhausted “Mollie”. Like all birds of prey the female is noticeably larger so it’s easy to tell them apart. As they refurbish their perennial five foot wide nests with marsh grasses, sticks, clumps of mud, human trash and marine debris over the next couple of weeks and rekindle their affection, passersby’s and locals enjoy Ollie’s diving displays and can spot the pair easily amidst all the soaring seagulls in the sky since osprey wingspans are an impressive 4 1/2 to 6 feet. It’s not unusual to see one of them flying about town displaying a large stiff fish in their talons like a prize although once their one to three chicks have hatched its most likely to be Ollie as Mollie is intent on caring for their brood.
On average half of the chicks will make it to adulthood although the osprey has but two enemies. One is man, with our invasive building and use of pesticides. The other is the eagle who enjoy fish too and can easily steal the one an osprey is carrying.
It is always fun to see which will happen first each spring; that amazing burst of yellow forsythia in the neighbor’s yard or the return of the first osprey. I’m always rooting for Ollie and Mollie!
Teja Anderson is a journalist, photographer and licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. For over ten years she has nurtured and released hundreds of orphaned wild baby animal including rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, opossums and field mice. An avid nature photographer and lover of all creatures great and small, she is excited to be joining green LIFE NJ. Although a Vermont native, Teja has found her home at the Jersey Shore and lives in Monmouth Beach with her husband Frank and their two children Jaden and Olivia.