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What You Should Know About the Osprey on Cape Cod

Osprey are some of the most predictable birds on earth, as they have distinct routines that they follow every year. The osprey found on Cape Cod, for example, leave the Cape every September and head south to Central and South America.

In fact, some of these birds make it as far south as Venezuela, where they spend their winters relaxing in the sun and catching fish.

Then, like clockwork, the osprey return to Cape Cod every March, ready to hatch and care for their young.

Osprey on Cape Cod with a captured fish.Because of their predictable nature, in addition to their enormous nests, osprey have become one of the annual seasonal traditions on Cape Cod. Once you see the osprey starting to appear, you know that spring is coming and that many other migratory species will begin arriving in the coming weeks and months.

When the ospreys leave the Cape, you can be assured that colder weather is on the horizon and that other seasonal species will follow suit and head for their winter homes.

Once you buy a home on Cape Cod, you'll unquestionably come into contact with osprey from time to time, so if you're a birdwatcher, you'll have plenty of opportunity with this lovely species.

What are Ospreys?

The osprey, or Pandion haliaetus, is a bird of prey that can reach over two feet in length and has a wingspan of nearly six feet. These birds generally have brown wings and gray heads and underparts and spend most of their time near the water.

In fact, since the birds dine almost exclusively on fish, they love living near the ocean, lakes, or rivers, where they can get their fill of their favorite meal anytime they wish. It makes sense why they live on Cape Cod, as they can set up their nest near a herring run for easy access to food.

Ospreys are found on every continent on earth except for Antarctica and are common throughout the eastern United States. The birds monogamous and spend their summers as a pair, before separating during migration in the winter.

Declining Numbers and the Resurrection of the Osprey

The osprey on Cape Cod almost disappeared at one point. In fact, the 1970s, it was estimated that only one or two nesting pairs were left in the region.

Much of this decline was caused by the chemical DDT, which was used in the area to control the mosquito population. An unintended consequence of using this chemical, however, was that it led to osprey eggshells becoming thinner and, therefore, the birds were unable to develop and hatch properly.

Today, however, hundreds of nesting pairs can be found throughout Cape Cod, as the species has made a full recovery following the banning of DDT in 1972. The fact that the species was almost wiped out in the region so quickly, however, goes to show just how fragile the osprey and similar species can be if their needs aren't respected.

Where They Nest

Osprey nests are a point of contention around Cape Cod because of where they appear. The species likes to be as high up as possible, as it gives them a safe place to raise their chick. The problem is that this often leads to nests being constructed at the top of utility poles, which is something the power companies and some local residents don't like.

There's also the fact that osprey like to return to the same nest each and every year. This usage leads to the nest growing over time, as the birds continually add to the structures. Eventually, the nest collapse and have to be rebuilt, causing issues for those in charge of maintaining these poles.

Safety is also an issue when nesting on a utility pole, as the birds can easily be electrocuted if they touch the wrong wires. Efforts to deter osprey from nesting on these poles are underway, but getting them to stop completely is almost impossible and discouraging them can take years.

The Mass Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and local power companies build nesting platforms all over the Cape for these birds to use. The platforms are meant to provide a safe place for the osprey to nest, in hopes of keeping them away from utility poles. If you're lucky enough to live near an osprey nest platform, you'll have the same osprey return every year to raise their young, and there is something special about becoming investing in the lives of multiple generations of an osprey family.

Cape Cod Osprey Watch

If you're interested in staying up to date on the osprey, the Cape Cod Osprey Watch is the place to do it. This group maps the locations of nest up and down the Cape, recording information year after year for all enthusiast to follow. By keeping up to date on these records, you'll know exactly where many of the ospreys on Cape Cod are living and can check out pictures taken by other members, as well.

The Osprey Watch is a great thing to get involved in after buying real estate on Cape Cod because it helps you to become more aware of this regional institution. One thing for certain is that if you’re into bird-watching or would like to see some osprey in action, Cape Cod is one of the best places in the country to do so.


Published June 18, 2018 in Did You Know?, Get to Know Cape Cod