Vineyard Osprey Monitoring Program
Ospreys are a signature species for Martha’s Vineyard. They represent renewal, triumph over hardship, and demonstrate that it is possible to bring a bird back from a dangerous decline. Osprey are easy to see, breed on the Vineyard, and are a beloved symbol of the island.
Today, more than 100 nesting pairs of Osprey grace the island during our spring and summer seasons and then migrate south for the winter. Intense efforts by Felix Neck staff, researchers, and volunteers have led to their current success.
2021 Osprey Census Summary
While much is known about these birds, research and monitoring efforts continue to be necessary to ascertain population trends; install, maintain, and manage nesting platforms; and learn more about their food resources, predation, and migration patterns.
Island resident and Felix Neck volunteer Dick Jennings, along with the help of other volunteers, has been managing a yearly Osprey census. To accomplish our research and monitoring goals, we are hoping to expand our Vineyard Osprey Monitoring Program.
But we need your help to make this happen! Your support in the form of funding for equipment or volunteering to be part of our citizen science program is greatly appreciated.
Also known as Fish Hawks, Ospreys are raptors that survive on a diet that's 99% fish. Every spring and summer, they can be found across the Commonwealth feeding in reservoirs, ponds, bays, rivers—and wherever else there are fish to be caught! Learn more >
When the cold weather rolls in, Ospreys head south and travel individually to more moderate climates, as close as Florida and as far as South America. Females depart first, leaving their male counterpart to care for their young for a few more weeks before he begins his own journey. The juveniles fly south last, making the journey all on their own—even the first time! It can take an Osprey anywhere from 2 weeks to almost 2 months to reach its destination. They will remain in sunnier spots for the entire winter without a partner, before returning north to their nest in the spring. Juveniles will remain south for the following summer season while they mature before flying north again.
Learn more about Osprey migration and about the journey of one particular bird named Penelope.
History of Vineyard Ospreys
When Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary opened to the public in 1969, the island had just two pairs of nesting Osprey. The reasons for their critically low numbers were numerous, but a major threat to the species was DDT, a toxic pesticide that weakened the shells of Osprey eggs to the point of failure.
Once DDT was banned in 1972, the hope was that Ospreys would return. But on the Island, Osprey populations remained low. Gus Ben David, Felix Neck's Sanctuary Directory at the time, quickly ascertained that the problem was with the availability of viable nesting sites—birds were nesting on telephone poles only to have their nests removed by utility staff.
Ben David began a program of installing nesting platforms at locations across the island. The first platform was erected at Mink Meadows, and over the years more than 160 nesting platforms have been erected. The most recent was installed at the outlet of the Tiasquam River on Tisbury Great Pond in autumn 2014, thanks to a cooperative effort between a private land owner, Ben David, and Felix Neck staff.