Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jersey Shore Nature: OSPREY

I was going to name this "New Jersey Wildlife" but then you'd be thinking of unfortunate television series or unflattering stereotypes, so "Nature" is the designation I will use when posting about the fascinating flora and fauna of the South Jersey region.

The Osprey, sometimes called sea hawk or fish eagle, is one of the largest birds of prey in North America and a summer resident of Ocean City, NJ, where they come to breed. These magnificent birds are about 24-inches in length with brown or black backs and wings; white heads, breasts, and belly, and sporting a black eye stripe.

They prefer to nest near bodies of water, so you can spot nests (many on breeding platforms*) around Ocean City's back bay area or over the wetlands. Primarily fish-eaters, they have a very unique reversible outer toe. This feature allows them to securely grasp prey, like slippery fish, with two toes in front and two toes behind. Osprey usually mate for life and the female lays two to four eggs that hatch in about 5 weeks. A typical lifespan is said to be seven to ten years. They migrate spring and fall.

Interestingly, the most commonly used breeding platform* design was developed by "Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River & Its Tributaries" (or CU), a not-for-profit organization from a neighboring county. It has become the official platform design for the State of New Jersey.

Osprey are depicted as white eagles in heraldry and have been featured on postage stamps around the world. The bird is also used as the name/mascot for a number of sports teams - including those from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Atlantic County!

To learn more, visit the website sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It includes basic facts, photographs, a range map, and a recording of the osprey's call.

Innsider Tip - Guests of the Scarborough Inn Bed & Breakfast can visit the Bayside Center (between 5th & 6th Streets on Bay Avenue) to peer into an osprey's nest on a live video feed. Now, that's an amazing experience!

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