Osprey Watch

Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Invites Midcoast Citizen Scientists to Join Osprey Watch

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (BTLT) recently convened a group of enthusiastic birders at the Topsham Public Library to learn about osprey, citizen science, and how to get involved in the Osprey Watch Program.

Emily Anderson, a BTLT volunteer, described how, for many people in Maine, osprey are a familiar sight, though just a few decades ago, that was not the case. Increasingly, though, it is common for people living in or visiting Maine to see osprey circling waterways and soaring, with fish in claw, back to their nests where hungry chicks await. Those lucky enough to have osprey nearby often become very attuned to their habits, even knowing when they are most likely to return north to breed in the spring.

In addition to the natural wonder and beauty of getting to observe osprey, Anderson explained that scientists are also very interested in the osprey and the observations of regular citizens.

“Their near-global distribution, migratory patterns, and place at the top of many aquatic food chains – the great network of who-eats-whom in natural environments – make osprey a key indicator of global environmental health. If there is a problem in their environment, such as a change in climate patterns, a fish shortage, or pollution, the effects will be very visible in the osprey populations.”

Although each of these three threats is often on the minds of those concerned about humanity’s impact on the environment, their direct effects can be challenging to monitor. According to the Audubon Society, osprey are expected to lose 79% of their breeding territory by the year 2080. This is due in part to warming temperatures, which will extend their ideal wintering range northward, while rising sea levels will limit the amount of land where temperatures are suitable for raising their young in the summer. Fish species that osprey rely on could move into deeper, colder water or die out completely, leaving less food to be found. The impact of tiny plastic particles, medications, and other pollutions on aquatic ecosystems is significant, though how osprey will respond to these relatively new pollutants is not yet clear.

Scientists can get a better understanding of how climate change and pollution  affect the way natural systems function by monitoring when the osprey return each year and their overall health. However, due to limitations in funding and time, it can sometimes be challenging for scientists to collect an in-depth, up-to-date, truly global data set.

“Citizen science is becoming an increasingly popular way for scientists to collect large volumes of high-quality data that in the past may not have been easily obtainable. Because citizen science relies on passionate volunteers to collect data, it is easier to gather information on a larger scale.”

If you are passionate about osprey and protecting the environment, or are interested in contributing to a global scientific effort, please consider becoming involved with Osprey Watch, a global community of observers focused on breeding osprey. By watching an osprey nest throughout the breeding season and recording what you see on their website, you can make a meaningful contribution to a project that hopes to monitor the effects of climate change, overfishing, and pollution. Visit  www.osprey-watch.org to learn how to get involved.

This presentation was part of our Spring Birding Extravaganza: a free series of birding events held in partnership with Merrymeeting Audubon, Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, and Harpswell Heritage Land Trust.  Read more about this annual series at www.btlt.org/spring-birding-extravaganza-2017