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Categorized | Featured, Outdoors

Osprey chicks outfitted with satellite backpacks  

The Michigan DNR’s Julie Oakes and USDA Wildlife Services’ Brian Washburn outfit an osprey chick with a GPS “backpack” at Kensington Metropark.

The Michigan DNR’s Julie Oakes and USDA Wildlife Services’ Brian Washburn outfit an osprey chick with a GPS “backpack” at Kensington Metropark.

Nearly absent from much of the state due to the effects of DDT and other pesticides and habitat loss, ospreys continue to rebound in Michigan. In southern Michigan, monitoring efforts are tracking the revitalization of this species.

This year, six osprey chicks from area nests were outfitted with “backpack” satellite and GSM telemetry units. These units—funded by grants from DTE Energy, Huron Valley Audubon, photographer Lou Waldock, U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services and American Tower Corporation—will help scientists track the young birds’ daily movements and seasonal migration patterns.

In 2013, three osprey chicks were given GPS backpacks in southeast Michigan. One chick banded near Estral Beach migrated to Cuba. A chick from Kensington Metropark ventured to Colombia, and one from Pinckney found good fishing sites on a golf course in Miami.

Unfortunately, all three chicks with backpacks perished in 2013. Approximately 60 percent of the osprey chicks hatched each year do not make it to their second birthday. Factors that commonly cause mortality in young chicks include predation by great horned owls, collisions with buildings and other structures, weather, and illegal shooting of birds in Central and South America.

“We are very excited to have this opportunity to place GPS units on several ospreys this year,” said Julie Oakes, Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist. “This will provide the DNR with not only information on what migration routes the birds take, but also insight into what perils they must endure on their migration.”

The exciting part is that anyone can follow along and find out where the birds have been, just by looking at the Michigan osprey website www.michiganosprey.org. Move the cursor along the route to see GPS coordinates and time and date information for each leg of the osprey’s journey. The youngsters will begin their migration in early to mid-September, so wildlife enthusiasts can log on to watch their journey.

In 1998, the DNR began to relocate ospreys to southern Michigan. The program, supported by donations to Michigan’s Nongame Wildlife Fund, removed chicks from active nests in northern Michigan and reared them in man-made towers in southern Michigan, a process called “hacking.” Relocation efforts occurred over a span of 10 years. In 2013, the DNR identified at least 56 active nests in southern Michigan—an incredible increase from the single active nest reported in 2002.

“This is a true wildlife success story,” said Oakes. “Each year we have new nests, and we have already exceeded our original goal of 30 active nests by 2020. We have been able to remove ospreys from the threatened species list to a species of special concern, which means their population is much more secure now. In addition, they now nest across much more of the state, which provides for insurance that the population will not be endangered by a localized natural disaster like a large hail and wind storm.”

Historically, osprey chicks have been banded each year as part of a national effort to monitor the species. Banding continues this year as a cooperative venture of the DNR, Huron Clinton Metroparks, the Detroit Zoological Society and Osprey Watch of Southeast Michigan.

Because ospreys often nest on cell phone towers, staff from cell phone tower companies are invaluable partners in osprey monitoring. Their staff members alert the DNR and Osprey Watch of Southeast Michigan to osprey nests, assist with the retrieval of chicks during the banding process and delay tower repair projects until after the nesting season.

Other partners in this monitoring project include the Huron Valley Audubon Society, Michigan Audubon, volunteers from Osprey Watch and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services.

Anyone who observes a nesting pair of ospreys in southeast Michigan is asked to contact Osprey Watch of Southeast Michigan online at www.michiganosprey.org.

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