Signs of Spring: Ospreys Return to Campus

Rising temperatures, rainy days, and blooming flowers are some of the most telling signs of spring, but are generally less fun to observe than nesting osprey, which have long been touted as a symbol of the changing seasons. Osprey, more commonly referred to as Seahawks, became a hot topic of conversation on campus last semester after a family of the seabirds nested on top of Anne Arundel Hall’s Blackistone Room. The birds could be seen carrying their nesting supplies all over campus and in Historic St. Mary’s City, but their choice of location last season also raised some serious concerns.

In an interview from October 2018, Bradley Newkirk, Assistant Director of the Physical Plant, told The Point News “There are, from a facilities standpoint, concerns about the building being able to properly exhaust air or bring in fresh air, because a lot of those chimneys aren’t just aesthetic, they’re functional… If the exhaust is plugged up, it affects other building systems… We would prefer that they nest in other places.” He also noted that  “Once those nests have eggs in them, we can’t touch them until they migrate… If there’s just a few sticks up there and they’re in the process of building a nest, we can move them.”

Newkirk was citing the protection of osprey under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. According to the Chesapeake Bay Field Office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service  “Ospreys, like other migratory birds, are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Osprey nests can be removed without a permit if the nest is inactive. A nest is considered inactive if there are no eggs or young present in the nest. To remove an active nest requires a permit.”

At the time of the interview, Newkirk suggested the community garden as an alternate nesting site. “There’s a pole that we’re hoping to get them to nest on, and not on fresh air intakes.” He added, of the nest over the Blackistone room, “There were birds in it. There were babies. We took a drone up there and took pictures.” Once this step had been done, the Physical Plant contacted the Fish and Wildlife Service for recommendations on relocating the nest, who advised that the school relocate the nest after the hatchlings had fledged and “put up some sort of device so they don’t come back,” he stated, before quickly adding “we purposefully invite them to other places that don’t necessarily affect things.”

Sure enough, as fall approached the nest over the Blackistone room had been replaced with a wire cage designed to make the site less appealing to nesting birds, which seems to be working: there is no sign of a new nest on the air intake. But fans of the Seahawk, knowing they return to the same breeding ground each year, may not know where to look to see the beloved College mascot this year. Luckily, aspiring birders don’t have to look much farther than the old nesting site to catch a glimpse of the new nest, which sits atop one of the poles next to the boathouse. It is speculated that the new nesting site may be even better than the last, given its proximity to both the river and St. John’s Pond. Despite their being called “seahawks”, osprey are not true birds of prey: instead, these “hawks” hunt for fish.

Visitors to the boathouse should take a moment to look up and appreciate the return of the College’s mascot for the season. With any luck, the new nest will have eggs later this month or in May, which will be incubated by the mother osprey for about a month before they hatch. According to US Fish and Wildlife Services, young osprey attempt their first flight 60 days after hatching.

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