The Connecticut Audubon Society wants to get a better handle on osprey populations in the state. To do so, the group is launching a new citizen science program called "Osprey Nation."
Alex Brash remembers one of the first times he saw an osprey. "I actually watched an osprey and a bald eagle tussle over a fish," he said. "I was living in Essex at the time, and I thought it was the most spectacular display of birds I'd ever seen." Today, Brash is president of the Connecticut Audubon Society, which just kicked off its new program.
It works like this: if you see an osprey nest, report the location to the Connecticut Audubon Society, which feeds that information into a Google map on its website. The organization is also looking for volunteers to provide a few other details. "We'd like to know the condition of the nest, when it was occupied, [and] if they know how many young are in it," Brash said.
The goal is to collect as much information about the birds as possible over the next several years. That information will be shared with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, to provide a broader picture of osprey numbers in the state.
Brash said those numbers plummeted in the mid-20th century due to DDT use, falling to about seven nests in the entire state during the early 1970s. Today, Brash said osprey numbers have rebounded "pretty well," but he said it's still important to monitor how the animals are doing.
Birders call ospreys "charismatic canaries." Brash said the animals provide a broad indication of an environment's health. "Since [ospreys] prey primarily on fish, by following their health and their population numbers you also get a tracking on the fish populations, which in turn tell you about the health of the waters around us," he said.
While no one knows exactly how many ospreys are in Connecticut, the Connecticut Audubon Society's website says "29 active Osprey nests are visible from one spot in Old Lyme alone."