At two feet long with a wing span of six feet, the osprey might not seem like an urban bird. But with a little help from Bayonne students, some may find a home in the city.
In March, eighth grade students from Woodrow Wilson School joined Bayonne High School students to build osprey nest platforms, which they installed in the wetlands near the Bayonne Golf Club.
Osprey are large brown and white raptors that mainly hunt fish and have been frequently seen in the waterways around Bayonne. Nesting, however, according to local environmentalists, is a significant accomplishment. Osprey have been sighted at either end of the golf course, but as of yet no birds have taken up permanent residence in the nests.
Larissa Drennan, a science teacher at Woodrow Wilson, and Tom Tokar, a science teacher at Bayonne High School, launched the initiative to build osprey nests in Bayonne earlier this year, after a successful collaboration with the Bayonne Golf Club last year in planting mussels in the same area.
“We intend to continue to work with the schools on the mussels program this year,” said Ron D’Argenio, the attorney for the Bayonne Golf Club. “But we also worked with them to construct osprey nests.”
The program, called Classrooms Without Walls, is seeking to provide a safe ground for osprey to nest, similar to areas in The Meadowlands near the Secaucus-Jersey City border, where nesting has been successful. D’Argenio said the nests were constructed in the school workshop.
“Like the mussels project, which allowed students to plant mussels in wetlands near the walkway, this is a hands-on activity,” he said.”
The Bayonne Golf Club funded the Osprey Program and Ben Wurst of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of N.J. provided technical guidance. PSE&G also provided financial and technical support.
“We donated $1,000,” said Richard Dwyer, a spokesperson for PSE&G. “At first, he asked if the PSE&G Environmental Partnership Team would construct the two platforms [Hudson and Hackensack River sides of Bayonne], like the 12 others we did in the Hackensack River Watershed; however, we agreed it would be better for the students to take life-long ownership of the platforms if they build them.”
Students learn, achieve with program
The students, teachers, and Wurst worked together in October to build three osprey nests that were installed in the New York Bay in March. The osprey-nesting season began in April. Wurst provided placement guidelines, a materials list, and plans to construct platforms for ospreys.
“It was a great experience because the Woodrow kids and the high school kids worked together to build homes for the osprey,” said Matthew Allard, an eighth grade student.
The Woodrow students met in the workshop at BHS in early October and together built three 18-foot tall nests.
“The most fun part about the project was using the power tools because I never used them before,” said Amina Jafar, also a Woodrow eighth grader.
Kevin Dimaandal said, “I think making nests for osprey is cool because I got to build a new home for a unique species.”
“Participating in the osprey nest program made me realize how much I enjoyed building something from scratch while also helping the environment,” said Domonique Pierre. “This was my first experience using a table saw to cut the pieces of wood. I had a great time working as a team with my classmates and hope to go back again.”
The program began with three platforms, but plans are to build more for placement around the entire peninsula of Bayonne.
On March 28, the students from Woodrow and Bayonne High School placed the nets in their permanent location along two berms adjacent to the walkway along the Bayonne Golf Club. The students, with assistance from Drennan, Tokar, and Wurst, transported the platforms via boat to the berms. There they dug holes, raised the structures and secured them with dirt, cement and large rocks.
“This was the first time I was ever in a boat,” said eighth grader Daniel Barker.
Neil Kiniery, also from Woodrow, called it “so cool.”
“We should build more nests so more osprey can live around Bayonne,” he said.
Cassandra Feathers, a BHS student said, “What we did today was great. We are helping birds and making Bayonne a more beautiful place. It’s interesting to know that so many different species of birds live in this area. Most people are not aware of that.”
Once near extinction, osprey returning
During the 1950s and 60s, the osprey population declined. Pollutants such as DDT contaminated waterways and began accumulating in fish. Since fish are the osprey’s main source of food, the osprey were adversely affected. In 1974, osprey were listed as an endangered species.
Recovery began with the ban of DDT and an environmental cleanup of their habitats. By 1986, the osprey status was upgraded to “threatened.” The waterways around Bayonne are continuing to become cleaner and ospreys are returning.
The osprey – sometimes called a sea hawk – is a large raptor that breeds by freshwater lakes, and sometimes near coastal brackish waters. Natural nests could be comprised of sticks, driftwood, and seaweed in outcrops of rocks or even atop utility poles or artificial platforms. The platform design developed by Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries Inc. has become the official design of the State of New Jersey, but is also used worldwide.
In spring, a pair of osprey begins a five-month period of partnership to raise their young. The female lays two to four eggs within a month, and relies on the size of the nest to conserve heat. The eggs are incubated for about five weeks to hatch.
Osprey are at the top of the marine food chain, indicating that the local water quality is healthy enough to support a growing fish population for the “fish hawk.” The Hackensack Riverkeeper now regards the river as “resource in recovery,” and the existence of two consecutive successful osprey nests demonstrates that the recovery is well underway.
Further monitoring of osprey nests will take place by Bayonne students to ensure an accurate population count over time. Future plans also include the installation of a webcam that will allow students and residents to watch the osprey in their natural habitat on the internet.
“I was talking with Hackensack Riverkeeper Captain Hugh Carola and he said there are now five active osprey nests in the Hackensack River watershed,” said Dwyer. “And to think that before we installed the first nesting platforms, there was not a productive pair of osprey in the Meadowlands District for anywhere from 75 to 100 years.”
For those interested in how the osprey tends to its young, you can log on to friendsofislandbeach.org/ospreycam.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.