A Bird’s Eye View: Osprey Conservation in North Carolina

NWF   |   June 13, 2018

The thriving osprey population on North Carolina’s Lake Norman is a testament to the effectiveness of the mission of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, state affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation. North Carolina Wildlife Federation has worked tirelessly to protect, conserve and restore the wildlife and habitats of North Carolina, and as a result North Carolina and people from around the world have the opportunity to learn more about migrant bird populations such as the osprey through nest cameras.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) are prevalent these days along the 225-mile long Catawba River which runs from western NC down into South Carolina. This wasn’t always the case as osprey populations on the Catawba River, like in many places, were non-existent or minimal at best as late as the early 1980’s. This was due to environmental factors, most notably widespread usage of the pesticide DDT, which weakens eggshells. Through a concerted effort to re-introduce osprey populations, their numbers have increased greatly. 

Ospreys need large open bodies of water, which the reservoirs of the Catawba provide, in order for young to successfully imprint on habitats for the furthering of reproduction and for diet as this species depends on freshly caught fish, hence the nickname ‘fish hawk’. North Carolina Wildlife Federation, through grants from the Catawba-Wateree Habitat Enhancement Program, has deployed, each year for a decade, osprey nesting platforms in Lake James, Mountain Island Lake, Lake Wylie, and Lake Norman-all reservoirs of the Catawba River

Credit: North Carolina Wildlife Federation

30-foot poles are driven into the water adjacent to island shorelines in sites vetted for biological and navigational suitability, but far enough so that their unencumbered height is attractive to the birds while also protecting against predators like black snakes and raccoons. The program has proven highly successful as nearly all the platforms erected support nesting ospreys year after year. 

The young birds fledge in the summer, and migrate often to Central and South America in the fall (the females usually leave about a month before the males), and they return back to their nesting sites every March.  

Building upon the nesting platform project, we are excited to announce a live stream feed on one of the platforms. This EarthCam project highlights the work of NCWF’s local chapter, the Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists (LNWC) – a community based organization established for the purpose of environmental education, appreciation of wildlife and natural history, and conservation of wildlife habitat and natural resources. 

This nesting platform, located in the shallow water surrounding a small wooded island, is one of over seven-dozen platforms constructed by the LNWC over the past decade.  LNWC relied upon its vast network of people and organizations to bring a variety of skillsets and resources together to complete the project.

Credit: North Carolina Wildlife Federation

The project was made possible thanks to the commitment and generosity of following community partners: Stutts Marina for providing sponsorship funding; Lancaster Docks for placing the poles; Morningstar Marinas – Kings Point for donating the use of their double-decker rental pontoon; All Seasons Marina for making their facilities available as a staging area; and, last but not least, LNWC volunteers, Terry Marr, Gene Vaughan, and Billy Wilson.  Mother Nature made things a bit challenging as the ospreys arrived a bit earlier than anticipated, and then March weather was certainly tough, especially on the Lake with high winds, waves, rain, snow and ice – but the volunteer team persevered and completed the installation process despite the tough elements.

The opportunity to view an active osprey nest provides a unique educational experience to the public and helps foster awareness of NCWF’s mission to protect, conserve and restore the wildlife and habitats of North Carolina.  To view the osprey activity, visit our website and spread the word about our effort to share this bird’s eye view of North Carolina wildlife in their natural habitats.

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Credit: North Carolina Wildlife Federation

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