The Ups and Downs of Nantucket’s Ospreys

by: Ginger Andrews

photography by: Tom Griswold, Vern Laux and Beverly Hall

Ospreys have a way of getting people’s attention. They are large, charismatic raptors with a wingspan a bit over five feet. As fish-hunters they make a big splash: literally. When the three-and-a-half-pound bird dives from 30 feet up, pivots, hits the water feet-first and rises, laboring against the air with a dripping fish in its talons, it is an awesome sight.

Their presence on Nantucket, as well as the rest of New England, has undergone many changes over time. And their relationship to humans has been, over the years, mixed.

When European colonists first arrived in North America, they found ospreys nesting together in large groups in the big old-growth trees that greeted them. As the human population increased and trees were cut down for firewood and lumber, or cleared for agriculture, ospreys suffered the first great bottleneck restricting their population.

The osprey was still a relatively common sight in 1900, with a presence across the Bay State and one pair apparently nesting on Nantucket. But Edward Howe Forbush, the state ornithologist, noted at the time that “it has decreased in recent years.”

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