Island’s famous feathered residents flourish

Felix Neck sees fourth best osprey season since start of program

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A male osprey delivers a fish at its nest at Long Point. — Kathy Kinsman

This past season was a good one for the Island’s favorite feathered friends, the osprey. 

Every year, Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary prepares for the return of the migratory hawks as they fly from warmer areas in the tropics of Central and South America and back up to their summer homes on the Vineyard.

Felix Neck naturalist Liz Dengenis said there are currently 98 active nests on the Island, and 344 nesting osprey, including chicks. 

Since the monumental effort by past sanctuary director Gus Ben David in the 1970s, the osprey population on the Island has grown tremendously. Prior to Ben David and wildlife volunteers erecting dozens of poles from 1970 to 1980, the number of osprey was dwindling because of DDT, a harmful chemical pesticide that weakens the shells of osprey eggs. “It is a rare true human intervention and conservation success story — from a few birds on the brink of extinction due to human actions, to an Island filled with them again because we stepped in and took action,” Dengenis said. “It’s been only 50 years since we had only four birds.”

This year, Felix Neck’s Citizen Science program was a huge success. Citizen Science volunteers put in over 1,800 hours travelling to their assigned osprey nests and monitoring their activity. Volunteers record a number of data sets, including when the osprey arrive, when they leave, and the number of chicks that are fledging (learning how to fly). This data allows Felix Neck to analyze the full osprey season and compare it to prior years. “The osprey monitoring program is special because it presents an opportunity for the community to do meaningful scientific monitoring and be part of an Island, state, national and worldwide project,” Dengenis said. 

In the future, Dengenis said she wants to get folks even more excited about Island osprey and encourage them to engage actively in protecting and supporting the birds. She said people on Martha’s Vineyard have a unique opportunity to be involved in a program that puts humans and animals side by side.

“Watching these birds reminds us that we are a part of the picture,” Dengenis said. “Humans are a natural part of the ecosystem just as much as the osprey are and learning to live together so that we both thrive is so important these days more than ever.” Learning about the survival of osprey on-Island affords a close connection with the natural world, which is one of the central goals of Felix Neck and the Citizen Science program, Dengenis said.

According to Dengenis, the osprey monitoring program needs continued funding and support in order to continue its important work in the future. “It is often tricky to find funding for this program,” Dengenis said. She said the program provides the opportunity to “maintain a close connection with the natural world and reestablish a reciprocal relationship that will ensure the survival of these birds.”