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Juniata Osprey Introduction Project Proceeding to Next Phase

(Posted June 13, 2005)

Ospreys are currently being re-introduced to the Raystown Lake habitat.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Newly born ospreys are still spreading their wings and learning the lay of the land at Raystown Lake in the third year of an osprey introduction program created by Juniata College and the Army Corps of Engineers, while the biologists in charge of the project are in the process of building nesting towers in anticipation of returning ospreys next summer.

Visit the osprey webcam!

Osprey, a fish-eating bird of prey related to eagles and hawks, may once again permanently soar over the fish-rich waters of Raystown Lake if Juniata and the Corps of Engineers can introduce breeding pairs of osprey to the area. Juniata researchers and Jeff Krause, wildlife biologist and resource manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, have collaborated on a breeding project that will raise and release six young osprey this summer. The osprey will arrive at the field station June 24. So far, about 12 osprey fledglings have been released at a site near Juniata's boat harbor.

"Populations of osprey declined perilously in the 1960s because of pesticide pollution," explains Chuck Yohn, director of the Juniata College Raystown Field Station. "Next spring is the first possible chance for returning osprey so we want to have nesting stations ready because we don't want the raptors to be nesting on our fledging tower."

Yohn adds that "They return to area where they were fledged in order to breed," he says. Ospreys have not historically nested and bred in central Pennsylvania because Raystown Lake existed in a much smaller size prior to the mid-1970s Army Corps of Engineers project that expanded the lake to its present size.

Raystown Lake is an ideal breeding site for ospreys, primarily because it has a vast area of open water and a high population of forage fish. Ospreys, which are slightly smaller than eagles, with a four- to five-foot wingspan, feed only on fish. In addition, ospreys can periodically be seen in the Raystown area during migration season, but no osprey nesting site has ever been reported in the area, according to Yohn.

The nesting stations, which are being built in a collaborative project with students at Hollidaysburg Area High School, are 3-foot by 3-foot platforms supported on a tree or telephone poles. In addition each nesting site must have two to three perch poles next to the platform. "We have to find sites that allow easy installation, have a panoramic view of the water and are not exposed to major boat traffic," Yohn explains.

Yohn also says the nesting station must avoid the two bald eagle nests currently in place on the lake. Ospreys, which are still listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are very tolerant of human activity in their nesting habitat, seemingly unbothered by boat noise, loud voices or other activity.

The birds arriving in late June were obtained from a wildlife biologist in Pomonkey, Md. and carefully transported to the Juniata field station. Juniata and the Corps of Engineers are using a 25-foot hacking tower where the six fledglings are raised until they are ready to hunt on their own. The six ospreys should be at or near the site until mid-August. The Juniata researchers have added a separate release chamber so that individual maturing osprey can leave the tower without exposing its tower-mates to danger from predators such as the great horned owl.

The birds were at least four weeks old upon arrival at Juniata. The birds have been monitored by two Juniata students, Lauren Forster, a senior from Camp Hill, Pa. and Melissa Wilson, a senior from Mount Joy, Pa. An international student from France, Robin Cordier, will also map each nesting site using GIS-technology.

Once the ospreys are mature enough to leave the site, they will fly away on migratory routes, but will not return to Raystown for three years. Next year, the raptors from the first releases may find their way back. "Essentially the ospreys need three years to mature and they 'wander' for those years and return to their original nesting site when it comes time to breed," Yohn says.

All six ospreys have been banded with color-coded bands used by the National Fish and Wildlife Service. When ospreys return to Raystown Lake to breed, Juniata scientists will observe nesting sites to determine if the nesting pairs are banded. This year, wildlife professionals at Canoe Creek State Park and Lake Perez in the Rothrock State Forest also have committed to constructing osprey nesting stations.

Other collaborators on this project are Americorps, Pennsylvania Conservation Corps, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Penn State University and KL Mills Inc.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.