Savannah Valley District

Osprey Nesting Season

Amanda Taylor, Forestry and Natural Resources Agent

March heralds an exciting time for many South Carolina birders: it’s osprey nesting season! 

An osprey pair nesting in the Everglades (From Diana Robinson, Flickr)

Ospreys are unique birds of prey found all over the planet. Whether in South Carolina or South Australia, there is only one species of osprey: Pandion haliaetus. Around 2 feet long and having a wingspan of more than 5 feet across, these fish-eating birds stick close to bodies of water. Using their incredibly sharp beaks and talons, they can dive at up to 70 miles per hour to catch their prey. 

Ospreys start nesting around late March and into early April. In some areas, you’ll spot osprey nests on top of powerline poles or channel markers. Dead trees, also known as snags, are their preferred nesting sites. In more developed areas, manmade structures are the next best thing. Ospreys mate for life and care for their young together. They’ll lay their eggs in April, typically 2 to 4 eggs per nest. The pink and brown eggs will incubate for about 38 days before hatching. The chicks leave the nest about 2 months later but stay close to Mom and Dad for another few weeks.

Nesting season hasn’t always been a happy occasion for ospreys. After World War II, a now illegal pesticide called DDT nearly led to their extinction. The product was used in agricultural fields and found its way into surrounding waterways. Through a process called biomagnification, the pesticide built up in the bodies of animals all along the food chain. Ospreys that consumed fish impacted by DDT could no longer absorb calcium properly. Calcium is key for egg development, and many ospreys lost their young due to fragile eggshells. Populations sharply declined throughout the following decades. An environmentalist movement headed by author and biologist Rachel Carson called attention to the negative impact of DDT on birds of prey. Thanks to the persistence of scientists and citizens alike, DDT was banned from the market in 1972 by the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Osprey populations have been on the rise ever since. Whether you live on Lake Hartwell or frequent the beaches on Hilton Head Island, there are many things you can do to protect your local osprey population. 

  1. Recycle your fishing line. Loose fishing line poses a threat to all wildlife, but it can be particularly dangerous for ospreys and their young. Click here to learn more about monofilament recycling.
  2. Go “plogging” in the beautiful Spring sunshine. Plogging is a Swedish-inspired term for jogging and picking up litter at the same time. Next time you’re strolling along the beach or lakeshore, bring a small bag to collect any trash you spot. Any trash you find stays out of the water and out of the bellies of hungry birds. 
  3. Check out the Merlin Bird ID app to record your osprey observations. When you spot an osprey or another bird, that data is collected by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a world leader in bird research. No matter where you are in the world, the Merlin Bird ID app can provide you with information about the birds you see and hear. 
  4. Consider installing a nesting platform on your property or in your community. This can give ospreys more options for a nest site, making it less likely for them to choose somewhere dangerous or too close to people. Click here to read an article about nesting platforms from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Osprey returning to its nest on a nesting platform

Osprey pairs reuse their nests for years at a time, and many communities name their birds and monitor their nests. There may be a “nest cam” recording the comings and goings of ospreys near you! As an example, check out the live cam for a nesting pair named Ricky and Lucy who live on Lake Murrary:


DDT and The Osprey:

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources – Osprey:

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