Bird Observer: The Birding Journal for New England

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

December 2016

Vol. 44, No. 6

Satellite Tagging of Ospreys in New Hampshire

Iain MacLeod


Rob Bierregaard (L) and Iain MacLeod with Art, May 2012. Photograph by Chris Martin.

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is one of the more familiar and charismatic birds of New England. Its large nests, conspicuous habits, fishing prowess, and tolerance of human activity have made it a favorite of birders and the general public alike.

Of course, Ospreys are only a New England bird for less than half the year. Their specialized food requirements—the only diurnal raptor in the world to feed exclusively on live fish—means that as cooler temperatures reach New England in September and October, Ospreys depart our shores before the freeze of winter locks its piscean diet under a shroud of ice.

Through banding studies, we knew that almost all of our New England Ospreys spend our winter months in South America. Or, I should say the recovery of dead banded Ospreys in places such as Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela led us to conclude that is where our Ospreys go. (See Figure 1 for the wintering location of seven of the Ospreys we’ve tagged.) Hawk migration observers had also documented the southward push of Ospreys along the Eastern Seaboard each fall, including through Florida and Cuba, so we had a good idea of how the birds reached South America and when they migrated. It was only with the development of miniature GPS tracking units in the 1990s, however, that we had the opportunity to see in detail where these birds go, how they get there, and what hazards they face along the way.

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