Photo © Keith Williams

March 2013 News

Platform for Success

The Osprey is a large fish-eating hawk and a top consumer in the food chain. Like Bald Eagles, Ospreys declined following the widespread use of the pesticide DDT. Now that DDT has been banned in the United States for 40 years, the Osprey is a common sight in open habitats near water. Ospreys are good indicators of environmental toxins, and their recent rebound is a positive sign. Similar to eagles, the Osprey builds a conspicuous nest out of large sticks that is fairly easy to spot, if you know where to look. Ospreys seek out a high vantage point near water from which to build their bulky nest, usually atop a sturdy treetop or snag. However, the Osprey will readily nest on an artificial structure, such as utility poles, boats, or even duck blinds, particularly when other options are limited. Because it can be undesirable to have an Osprey nest on one of these structures, many people encourage safer nesting by Ospreys by putting up an artificial nesting platform. Ospreys will readily use artificial platforms, and the following tips will help you to recruit a nesting pair of Ospreys to your area.

  1. Build community support for the Osprey by educating neighbors about this regal raptor. Talk to your local bird club, conservation organization, utility company, and/or parks department about providing in-kind or financial support for your project. Simply by asking, you may be able to secure donations of old utility poles, lumber, hardware supplies, or labor.
  2. Choose a location that is likely to attract Ospreys. The location for the platform should be within 1,600′ of water, and should be taller than any nearby trees (or at least 20′ tall, whichever is greater). If the platform is to be located in water, it should be at least 15′ over the water’s surface. Platforms can even be placed on utility poles with the aid of 6-8′ risers (work with your utility company to place platforms in areas where Ospreys are already using utility poles for nest sites). Ospreys are fairly tolerant of nearby human activity and of other Ospreys, so long as there is an adequate food supply to support nesting.
  3. Follow our construction plans for building the platform, and consider adding a predator guard to the post. Add a few large sticks to the bottom of the platform; this will entice Ospreys to check out your nest start.
  4. Monitor the platform for activity, and report your observations to You can also peek into the private lives of Ospreys by tuning in to the Lab of Ornithology’s Osprey Cam in May to watch nesting Ospreys in Montana, courtesy of Project Osprey.

Finally, share your success with us, and publicize it in your local newspaper! People will be curious about the platform, and this is the perfect chance to share the amazing Osprey with them. Coordinating a big project like this can bring together people from very disparate backgrounds–such as utility workers, anglers, and bird watchers–who might not otherwise work together for bird conservation. By taking on a project like this, you will not only be building a platform for success for the Osprey, but for future community partnerships, as well.

Ready, Set, Nest!

The first day of spring was yesterday, March 20th, but the birds don’t seem to read calendars. Across the southern states, birds are already showing signs of nesting activity. Glenda Simmons of Florida reports that a Carolina Wren pair has just fledged four young from a box she had stored in her garage. This is the earliest record for this species in Florida, according to the Florida Breeding Bird Atlas. We’re also getting reports of incubating Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls. These species begin nesting as early as January or February in the Northeast. Fans of our Facebook page have submitted pictures of Eastern Bluebirds carrying nest materials into boxes. And right here in Ithaca, New York, the Lab of Ornithology’s own Red-tailed Hawk cam is live, featuring Big Red now incubating her three eggs. If you’ve got early birds nesting already, we invite you to go ahead and begin submitting data to And if you’re still surrounded by snow, don’t worry–it won’t be long now!

More on Cardinals

After last month’s NestWatch eNews article on Northern Cardinals, called “The Redder the Better,” was shared on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Round Robin blog, we enjoyed hearing feedback from many readers new to NestWatch. Here are some of their questions that you might be wondering, too.

  • “Do cardinals mate for life?” No, new pairs form during the breeding season, although some cardinals remain paired on the breeding territory all year. Pairs do get “divorced” within and between breeding seasons.
  • “We’re all taught at an early age that bright coloring can also trick a predator into thinking something may be poisonous. Could that also be the case with cardinals?” Cardinals are not known to be poisonous, and most predators will readily take a cardinal if they can catch one. Scientific evidence points to the evolution of bright colors among birds primarily as a signal of mate quality.
  • “Someone told me that cardinals will take over other birds’ nests and raise any eggs present as their own. Is this true?” Male cardinals occasionally feed nestlings or fledglings of other species, although not because they have taken over another bird’s nest. This may happen because another chick is begging nearby, and the birds might get confused. Another thing that happens quite often is that a Brown-headed Cowbird will lay one or more of its eggs in the cardinal’s nest. The cardinal cannot tell the difference and ends up raising the cowbird. In fact, cowbirds make no nests of their own and rely entirely on other species to raise their young. Many bird species, not just cardinals, are duped by the cowbird.

Monthly Winner

At the beginning of each month, NestWatch randomly selects one participant who has entered data that month to receive a copy of the NestWatch Common Nesting Birds of North America poster. This month’s lucky winner is Don Alsup. Congratulations, Don!

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Cornell Lab of Ornithology