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The Mast-Head: Bird on the Chimney Top

Wed, 05/31/2023 - 16:59

Considering how many osprey one can see around here these days, it is hard to imagine that not all that long ago, they were thought to be in danger of extinction, thanks to pesticides weakening their eggs. Now, they seem so numerous, they may be running out of decent places to build their nests.

Just up the road from my house in Amagansett, one of these fish hawks, as they used to be called locally, started piling sticks on top of a neighbor’s chimney. Whether it was too narrow or the bird was just inexperienced, it was hard to tell, but more of the branches and twigs ended up sliding down the metal roof than staying where the osprey intended. This all took place less than 200 feet from a pole on which an osprey pair have raised any number of broods in recent breeding seasons.

Osprey prefer to return to the same site each year, adding to their nests, so that over time, they become larger and larger. In the 1960s there were only a handful of pairs on the East End, and the ones that bred did so on Gardiner’s Island, where they were protected from most predators. I can remember sailing with my father along Bostwick Point and seeing nest mounds as tall as a man that had built up over time.

As a child I was fascinated to see the plastic objects, toys, and bits of foil tucked among the sticks; the birds liked to decorate their nests, my father explained. One does not see as much junk in osprey constructions anymore, perhaps because their home decorating tastes have changed or maybe it is that there is less human-produced junk on the beach. Or perhaps, with so many of them that there is no longer enough flotsam and jetsam to go around.

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