Return of the Osprey

Cindy Ferguson, Director of Development
Cindy Ferguson, Director of Development

He returned March 19 and she returned on the 24th. And with that, the 22nd nesting season of our resident osprey pair began.

This pair is emblematic of the conservation success story of the species. But they also hold a unique distinction that was reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer and which has endeared them to many in the region. For that story, we need to rewind two decades.

I live along the tidal Delaware in Bucks County at its border with Philadelphia. Beginning April 1997, my connection to the river deepened and my passion for birding was sparked when a newspaper article—After Decades, Ospreys Return—appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The reporting was about a pair of osprey that took up residence on a channel market where the Poquessing Creek meets the Delaware River. This was newsworthy as these ospreys were the first pair to locate in the Philadelphia region in more than 60 years—decades after the species was nearly wiped out by DDT—along with Bald Eagles and other birds of prey. Their return became personal for me as they took up residence in the “neighborhood” where I live. Although I was not yet a part of the birding community, I knew that these new avian residents were cause for celebration!

Beginning that spring and now for 22 nesting seasons, I have had the privilege of witnessing part of the life cycle and incredible journey of these amazing birds. With distinctive markings and a wing span of 6 feet, these fish-eating raptors are an impressive sight. I’ve watched them build their trash-strewn nest, mate, hunt and capture fish—plunging feet first into the water and rising with prey in their talons. When the female is sitting on eggs, I’ve waited with anticipation for the first sight of the hatched osprey young. I’ve watched them grow from fuzz balls to adult-size juveniles in just a few months, and I’ve been awed by how they learn to fly and hunt for themselves. By early September I’ve felt their absence when the formerly crowded and active nest is suddenly empty—marking their departure for the southbound migration.

Migrating osprey travel separately to their wintering grounds in Central and South America and when they return to their nesting territory. Despite the thousands of miles and migration perils they confront, somehow, this pair arrives back at our channel marker the third week of March to begin the cycle again. We welcome them back to their summer home.



In addition to being an avid birder, Cindy Ferguson is the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s Director of Development. This post is the second in a series celebrating the Year of the Bird.