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OspreyCelebrating 40 years of protecting Wisconsin's natural heritage

Listen to WPR

Catch DNR avian biologist Patricia Manthey and retired biologist Ron Eckstein on The Larry Meiller Show live from 11-11:45 June 27 on these WPR Ideas Network stations or online. If you miss the show, you can still listen to the archives

Comeback Champs

American Transmission Company and the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation are the Comeback Champs for June for contributing materials, equipment, staff and funding to build and protect osprey nesting platforms so crucial to rebuilding the raptor's population.

Osprey prefer to nest on top of the tallest tree around. In many areas of the state, the tallest tree-like structure happens to be a power transmission pole. So, over the last 30 years, ospreys have selected power transmission poles for nesting. ATC and WPSC have not only accepted osprey nests on their power poles but actively secured and protected those nests. Today, more than 80 percent of osprey nests occur on power line poles and towers.

ATC and WPSC's efforts, and those of electric power companies across the state, have helped Wisconsin's osprey population recover from fewer than 100 pairs in 1973 to over 500 pairs in 2011 and removal from the state's endangered and threatened species list in 2009.

Get involved

Your tax deductible donation to the Wisconsin Endangered Resources Fund helps pay for ongoing monitoring and work with landowners to protect nests for osprey in Wisconsin.

Donate online now!

Welcome return of a noisy but spectacular summer visitor

The osprey, a noisy, fish-eating raptor that summers and nests in Wisconsin, was put on the state's endangered species list in 1972 after indiscriminant shooting and lakeshore development eliminated the bird from southern Wisconsin. Pesticide use after World War II caused eggshells to thin and break, reducing the number of young birds and osprey populations in the 1950s and 1960s.

The osprey's recovery started to take off after a 1969 Wisconsin ban on the pesticide DDT took effect and was followed by a national ban.

Aerial work aids a natural born flyer

Aerial surveys and banding of young birds involving independent researchers in the 1950s, and DNR biologists and contract pilots starting in the 1960s, helped provide a good starting point for a 1986 recovery plan that sought to increase the number of breeding pairs to 300.

Once a nest was located on public lands, state biologists developed a management plan for the area including restricting timber harvest, road building and other human disturbances within 1/4 mile. DNR enlisted the cooperation of landowners to protect osprey nests on private lands.

If you build it they will come

Osprey's choice for a natural nest is a dead tree snag, but such sites are scarce now due to forestry practices, wetland drainage, and beaver control. DNR wildlife biologists erected over 200 osprey nest platforms between 1972 and 1993; since then various power and transmission companies have installed osprey platforms on transmission line poles and nesting has been successful on these sites. More than 80 percent of the state's breeding osprey population now nest on artificial platforms.

Ospreys take off and are taken off the list

Three years after the 1986 recovery plan was developed, osprey populations reached 300 pairs and the species improved from endangered to threatened status in 1989. Osprey were removed from the threatened list in 2009. In 2011, there were more than 500 breeding pairs nested in 49 of the state's 72 counties.

2011 Wisconsin Bald Eagle and Osprey Survey

See a live Osprey video feed

Fast Facts

Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus:

Ospreys are large raptors and our only bird of prey that plunges into the water to capture fish.

Identifying marks:
Ospreys have a white head with a broad, black cheek patch and brown tail. Its long, narrow wings are angled back at the wrist when it flies, and a black wrist patch contrasts with white underwings.

Habits and habitat:
In Wisconsin, ospreys breed mainly in forested lake regions of northwest and north central Wisconsin. A few nest along the Wisconsin River and in swamps and inland lakes in central Wisconsin. Osprey prefer to nest on top of the tallest tree around; in many areas of the state, the tallest tree-like structure is a power transmission pole. Wisconsin electric power and transmission companies have not only accepted, but have actively secured and protected those nests.

Food: Osprey eat 99% fish. There are anecdotal stores of their very occasionally grabbing something else. The chicks are raised on fish. When the chicks are very small the parent tears the fish into little bits and gives it to the chick. By this age, they can tear up their own fish.

Fun Facts:
Osprey are unusual in that they do not return from their first migration for 2 or 3 years. The remain on wintering grounds in central and south America during that time.

Osprey's feet are specially adapted for their fishing lifestyle. The pads of the feet have rough projections for holding slippery fish and their outer toe can be rotated backward to provide a 2-and 2 pincer grip on the fish.

More about ospreys in Wisconsin...