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Nearly extinct decades ago, CT’s osprey population is booming

An osprey perched in Fairfield in April of 2022.
David Butt
Getty Images
An osprey perched in Fairfield in April of 2022.

The once-threatened ospreys, or “fish hawks,” are continuing to make their comeback along Connecticut's inland and Long Island Sound shores.

In 2014, Connecticut Audubon Society’s volunteers found more than 200 osprey nests. This year, there are nearly 700 nests.

Miley Bull, senior director of science and conservation at Connecticut Audubon, says there are various, interconnected reasons for the population boom.

“Ospreys are totally dependent upon live fish. Fish, of course, are dependent upon clean water,” he said. “And as long as our water is clean, and the fish are abundant, ospreys will continue to proliferate.”

Ospreys nearly went extinct from ingesting the toxic pesticide DDT, which weakened their offspring’s egg shells, causing population loss. Bald eagles and brown pelicans were also impacted. The chemicals were banned for most uses in 1972, and the birds of prey slowly have recovered since.

Bull said the rebound is also linked to more abundant menhaden, a kind of herring fish, an important food source for the birds.

“It's also the fact that our menhaden population has recovered pretty much in Connecticut, we no longer, at least currently, are doing commercial harvesting of the menhaden,” Bull said.

However there is some concern about over-harvesting of the herring in the Chesapeake Bay, the fish’s main breeding ground, he added.

Bull also attributed the osprey’s success to the growing number of volunteer stewards looking for nests and looking at the data in the last decade. He says they’re about halfway through the nesting season, but they could use more volunteers for what CT Audubon Society dubs the “Osprey Nation.

Bull said there are 400 nests right now that need volunteer monitors to track their progress, and make sure the eggs and chicks are faring well.

In the meantime, the public can observe an osprey nest perched at Milford Point virtually through a livestream video where you can see and hear the chirp of chicks and the ocean breeze.

Michayla Savitt is a reporter at CT Public, with a passion for covering climate change, the environment, and how they impact our well-being. While studying health & science reporting at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in 2022 she joined WNPR as a talk production intern, and enjoyed the station so much that she returned that summer as a newsroom intern. Before CT Public, Michayla spent several years as a host, reporter and manager at various media outlets.