What a Comeback, Nesting Platforms for All!
BIRD BRAINS: Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends (ISBN: 978-0-7267-8755-5)
Near the end of a warm summer day in early June, a stop for dinner on North Carolina’s Outer Banks turned into one of the most memorable birding experiences of my life.
As my wife and I walked across the parking lot of the seafood restaurant, I stopped briefly to watch an osprey soaring high above the building. Little did I know what awaited when the hostess escorted us to our window seats overlooking a coastal saltmarsh. Just outside the huge window was an osprey nest overflowing with three fledgling-sized chicks.
Photo Copyright: Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS
For the next hour, we ate a sumptuous coastal clambake dinner while the adult ospreys took turns flying in to feed the chicks, whose bodies overhung the sticks and twigs of their giant platform nest. As I sat there stuffing my face with great seafood and snapping wild bird photos with my camera—stuff, chew, click, repeat—stuff, chew, click, repeat—I had a sobering thought.
An osprey demonstrates its hovering technique before plunging straight down to grasp its piscivorous quarry. (Photo Copyright: Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
Next to peregrine falcons, ospreys are the most widely distributed birds of prey—also known as raptors—in the world. They occur on every continent except Antarctica. But in her 1962 landmark environmental book, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson warned the world that our wanton use of the insidious pesticide DDT was about to wreak havoc on the environment, most notably raptors—especially exclusive fish-eaters like these ospreys. Of course, Ms. Carson’s dire predictions came true a lot quicker than anyone anticipated and as a result North American osprey populations, along with that of many of our other great birds of prey, were threatened by extinction from the face of the earth. As natural history writer and illustrator Julie Zickefoose describes in her book The Bluebird Effect, “Ospreys became bellwethers for the health of bird populations overall, as their nest failures due to eggshell thinning from pesticides were so spectacular and unequivocal.”
Artificially constructed nesting platforms are a key component in bringing ospreys back from the brink of DDT extinction to healthy populations throughout the United States. (Photo Copyright: Budd Titlow, NATUREGRAPHS)
Now here I sat, giddily chowing down next to a nest full of ospreys within arm’s reach of my table. This happy circumstance was due to a combination of facts. First in 1972, came the ban of production and application of DDT in the United States. Second, the nation’s fish and wildlife agencies constructed wooden nesting platforms—designed specifically for ospreys—throughout most of our coastal estuaries and marshlands. As a result today, osprey populations in the United States have made an incredibly strong recovery. In fact, their comeback has been so successful that now, near any sizable body of water, you can expect to see several of these magnificent avian warriors circling on thermals, hovering over prey, dive-bombing feet-first into the water, and pulling up with large fish carried headfirst in their talons.
After we finished our meal, Debby and I walked outside along the deck of the restaurant to watch the setting sun. As we strolled, the young ospreys in the nest above our heads gently cheeped and chirped as if to say, “So long, thanks for coming, it was good to see you.” Yes—right back at you my fabulous feathered friends, it certainly is good to see you—still here on the planet with us!
Text excerpted from book: BIRD BRAINS: Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends, written by Budd Titlow and published by Lyons Press (an imprint of Globe Pequot Press).
Author’s bio: For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need. Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.