Osprey Population Rebounds in New Jersey

By Brenda Flanagan

Jack and Wendy Osprey scolded us for intruding on their salt marsh turf, a 22-acre preserve on Long Beach Island along Barnegat Bay. It’s spring and they’ve got one thing on their minds.

“This is the beginning of their nesting season in New Jersey. Birds are returning to nest sites. So yes, love is in the air, for sure,” said Ben Wurst, habitat program manager for the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

Biologist Wurst studies and protects ospreys for the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. They built these nest boxes, and while Jack goes out fishing, Wendy spends a lot of time at home.

“When they stay closer to the nest bowl, that means that eggs are going to come very soon,” Wurst said.

Jack and Wendy are playing their role in helping the raptor population rebound. Back in 1975, New Jersey’s osprey population plummeted to less than 70 breeding pairs. By 1982, only one pair of bald eagles remained because the birds couldn’t hatch eggs rendered too fragile by toxic DDT. The latest, record-breaking count shows 515 nesting osprey couples — most of them along Barnegat Bay — and 150 breeding pairs of eagles.

“To see them thriving again is not only impressive in its own right and speaking to the quality of the water, the quality of the fish, etc., improving, but it also, I think, does something for a lot of people to be able again to have the chance to see these magnificent raptors,” said David Wheeler, executive director of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

It’s ospreys that brought photographer Geri Schnure and her husband Ed here from Pennsylvania.

“They’re just very intelligent birds,” Ed said. Every single year the same pair comes back to the nest. “And you watch them raise the young ones and everything. It’s just so impressive.”

Can’t get here in person? The foundation offers raptor nest cams so you can watch chicks hatch and grow. The nonprofit depends on grants and fears federal funding might get cut this year just as the raptor population really takes off. Ospreys usually raise two chicks per nest. Dad does all the fishing, while mom raises the chicks. Wurst says Jack hoarded all his fish in the beginning.

“He didn’t really want to share at all,” Wurst said. “The first year they only had one chick. That was two years ago. And last year, they had three. So now you can see they’re getting to be more experienced.”

This year, New Jersey will conduct a statewide osprey census — the first one in four years. And the public’s not just invited, it’s urged to get involved. They depend on volunteers.

For more information, visit the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey website and Osprey Watch.