From the NPS Keep Your Eyes On the Sky for Summertime Neighbors


Jamaica Bay is a popular respite for many migrating birds to lay their eggs and raise their young.  The bay’s brackish waters are rich with food and refuge, and provide ample habitat for our summertime neighbors. One in particular has made an excellent come back over the years—the osprey. If you’re not watching closely, you just may miss them; while relaxing on the beach, staring out at the Atlantic horizon, or commuting  across the bridge, this very special sea-hawk will surprise you with a feet-first splash.

When seen from below, ospreys are often said to make an “M” shape, as they fly with a distinct kink in their wings. The bird’s back and wings are brown, which contrast with its white underparts and long pale legs. A distinguishing feature of the osprey is the brown line behind the eye. This adaptation helps aid it while it hunts, helping to decrease the glare from the water’s surface as it searches for food.  And considering that 99 percent of the osprey’s diet is fish, this stripe is essential.

If you have your heart set on seeing one of these birds, you may have better beginner’s luck looking for one of their nests. Osprey nests are large and in open areas, usually within sight of water. They construct these nests out of sticks, and add to them each year when they return from migration. These nests can be found on platforms especially built for the birds, dead trees, and on an occasional unused crane. Some may notice the one along Cross Bay Boulevard, not far from the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. After generations of adding to the nest year after year, ospreys can end up with nests 10–13 feet deep and 3–6 feet in diameter—easily big enough for a human to sit in.

Around this time of year, you may find Chris Nadareski, a research scientist from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, and Don Riepe, Director of the Northeast Chapter of the American Littoral Society, leading bird-banding expeditions around these nests. The tagging occurs before the young have fledged (about 5 ½- 6 weeks old), and are gingerly cradled by Nadereski, who places two bands on the juvenile bird; on the right leg a silver band for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and on the left leg a green band with large numbers that can be read with binoculars from a long distance. The  information that is collected from these sightings will help track how far osprey travel during their migration and also how long they live.

Currently we have 14 active nests within our jurisdiction, reporting 32 juvenile birds this season—a record! Only time will tell if they survive the perils of their first migration, when they return to Jamaica Bay next spring to start a family of their own, or find their way to another fishy waterway, where their powerful silhouettes will give us hope for a sustainable future.