September 2, 2011

Satellite-tagged New Hampshire Osprey Heads for South America

A fledgling Osprey -- carrying a light-weight satellite transmitter -- from a nest in New Hampshire has started its long and perilous migration to South America. The young female Osprey, named Saco, was equipped with the solar-powered, GPS-enabled satellite backpack when it was six-weeks old at its nest at the Ayers Island Hydro Station in New Hampton in July as part of a new project by the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. The project is funded by Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) with additional funding from the Jane B. Cook 1983 Charitable Trust. Two chicks were tagged in July, but the younger male chick didn’t survive its first flight attempts.

The new tracking project is led by Iain MacLeod, Executive Director of the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, NH. MacLeod has studied Ospreys for more than 30 years and has monitored the growing nesting population in the NH Lakes Region since 1997. “This project will allow us to track this bird continuously for up to three years as it migrates across the Equator, and is part of a larger New England-wide project spearheaded by Dr. Richard O. Bierregaard, a distinguished visiting research professor at the Department of Biology at the University of North Carolina,” said MacLeod. “Bierregaard has been studying Ospreys on Martha’s Vineyard for 42 years and holds extensive experience using this satellite tracking system. After 10 years, and more than 40 birds tagged (mostly on the Vineyard), his project is providing much-needed data revealing migrational differences among Ospreys and helping pin down where threats to the birds lie,” added MacLeod.

The Osprey – sometimes called the “fish hawk”-- is the only bird of prey in the world to feed exclusively on live fish. Their large size (more than five-foot wingspan), huge, obvious stick nests (often on man-made structures, including light towers, channel markers and even buildings) and wide-spread distribution have made them familiar to many people – particularly those living along tidal estuaries and large lakes. Once decimated by DDT, Ospreys have recovered significantly in the last three decades and have recolonized most of their pre-DDT haunts.

Saco took her very first flight on July 23. Over the next four weeks she explored the immediate vicinity of the nest, which is located next to the Pemigewasset River, gaining strength and confidence and eventually learning to fish for her self. Her every action was closely monitored via a webcam provided and hosted by PSNH – which owns the hydro station and provided the nesting pole on which Ospreys have nested since 2004. Saco’s father continued to feed Saco at the nest right up to the moment that she decided to strike out on her own.

She left the nest for the last time on Monday, August 22 at 9:11 a.m. and, after a tour of several nearby fishing locations, she headed west and spent her first night perched on the shore of a small beaver pond just south of Pleasant Lake near New London. The next day, she traveled 135 miles and ended up perched on the edge of another beaver pond near North Canaan in Connecticut. On the 24th, she traveled 55 miles to a hill-top roost site in New York, then by the end of the next day she was 32 miles away in New Jersey. On August 26, as Hurricane Irene swept towards the east coast, Saco made a 150 mile push and ended up spending the night near the Holtwood Dam on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. After fishing on the spillway below the dam (which must have looked a lot like home), she pushed on another 85 miles, spending the night and next morning on the Potomac River near Sharpsburg, Maryland and Tuscarora, West Virginia. On Sunday, August 28, she made another good push, traveling 132 miles to the coast of Virginia, ending the day perched on the edge of the Rappahannock River just south of Tappahannock. The travel distance between her hourly data points is about 590 miles in 7 days. Saco’s destination is South America. She will have to negotiate the most treacherous portion of the trip – through the Caribbean -- in the coming weeks (hurricane season) and then find a suitable location to spend the next two years before returning to New England to breed. Most of the Ospreys studied by Bierregaard have traveled to Venezuela, Brazil and Colombia.

To find out more about this Osprey project and see updated maps of Saco’s journey, visit and click on the Project OspreyTrack button. To read more about PSNH’s ongoing commitment to Osprey conservation in NH, visit

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