osprey_jg_120Last month an osprey nesting platform was installed by the lake shore on Salt Point.  NYSEG Forester Paul Paradine predicted that if osprey actually decided to nest it was likely they would settle there within two weeks to a month.  This week -- one month and four days later -- a pair of osprey moved in.

"There were 4 birds in the area, lots of intense chases," avid Lansing bird watcher John Greenly said Tuesday.  "This is clearly very desirable Osprey real estate.  Today it appears that one pair has taken possession."

osprey_jg_onplatformPhoto by John Greenly

The platform was installed by a NYSEG crew on March 19.  The previous week they had erected a 65 foot tall utility pole near the lake shore.  The wooden platform, built to specifications provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, has a metal mesh floor with a perch angling off one side.

"Watching them in their mating flight was magical," Paradine says. "The lake was like glass, they were looping and soaring - I think they were truly happy to have found a new home."

Attracting osprey is part of a long term plan for Salt Point to refocus the property as a nature preserve, removing vehicular traffic from most of the point and replacing it with hiking trails.  Over the past month the Lansing Highway Department has been blocking access to most of the property with concrete barriers, and installing a gate so emergency vehicles still have access when needed.  Last week Town Councilwoman Katrina Binkewicz led a group of volunteers who planted 16 trees and acres of wild flowers.

Activity around the nest earlier this week was a triumph for the town, bird watchers, NYSEG and volunteers who have supported the installation.  While you can build the most desirable nesting platform possible, there is never any guarantee birds will settle on it.  Paradine said earlier attempts elsewhere in Tompkins County had failed to attract the birds.

osprey_donnascottPhoto by Donna Scott

The new nest is not far from another rare successful nest on Cargill property on Portland Point, also on the lake shore just south of Salt Point.  Paradine says the two are the only successful osprey nests in Tompkins County, and this week said it is incredible to get a pair so quickly after erecting the platform.  Greenly speculated that the nesting osprey may be grown chicks, now old enough to breed themselves, who hatched in the Portland Point nest on Cargill property three years ago.

"I read that Ospreys head to S. America at the end of their first summer and stay there until three years old, when they return north for the first time," he said.  "Do I remember correctly that the Portland Point pair first nested three years ago?"

Last month Paradine's crew placed some driftwood onto the platform to help attract birds.  He said that putting the sticks there as the start of a nest acts as a 'welcome mat' to encourage the birds to settle there.  Greenly says that the birds who won the competition for the location wasted no time in beginning to build the nest.

osprey_jg_perchedPhoto by John Greenly

"They spent a lot of time sitting on the platform, and I saw three attempts at mating: unsuccessful because the female was sitting facing downwind and the male of course approached facing upwind," he said.  "The male also brought one 2' long stick to the box while I was there."

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology osprey may migrate 160,000 miles over its lifetime of between 15 and 20 years.  Their main staple is fish. They eat over 80 species of fish, but have also been observed eating snakes, salamanders, voles, and muskrats.  They lay from one to four pinkish, spotted eggs, two inches or less wide, which hatch about five days apart.  Eggs take 36 to 42 days to hatch, and the birds typically stay in the nest for 50 to 55 days.