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Long Island

Osprey nest a sudden surprise at Mill Neck Creek

A 16-foot wooden platform placed near Mill Neck

A 16-foot wooden platform placed near Mill Neck Creek in the Town of Oyster Bay on March 31 drew ospreys within a week. They've mated and built a nest. Photo Credit: Jim Jones

How do you define spring? For some people, it is the feel of the warm sun or the chance to dig in the garden. For me, it is the return of the osprey, and this year, it has been very special.

In February, a friend asked me to install a bird platform in a patch of marsh that looks out on tranquil Mill Neck Creek in the Town of Oyster Bay. It is prime habitat for the osprey, or fish hawk, a white-headed bird of prey. With shoreline development making trees more scarce, the birds have built nests on tall platforms placed by nature lovers.

As a member of the nonprofit group Volunteers for Wildlife for more than 20 years, I’ve placed dozens of them around Long Island. My typical osprey platform is a 3-foot-square board bolted to the top of a pole that will stand 16 feet high. My personal touch is to add a natural wooden perch a few feet above the platform. Male birds seem to like to land up there and drop nesting materials and fish to their mates.

Osprey prefer nests near or surrounded by water, so on March 31, I checked the tide tables so that five volunteers and I could plant our new platform at or near low tide. Our team was joined by Mill Neck Mayor Peter Quick, two village employees and a friend who funded the materials. We dug a hole and raised the platform with muscle power and ropes.

Once planted, the platform was ready for immediate occupancy. No bait or lures are needed, but I explained to everyone that nature cares little for human wishes, and osprey can take a year or more to adopt a new platform as a home.

However, less than a week after the pole went up, I received an email from one of my volunteers. She saw an osprey on our platform.

I drove over immediately and saw it, too. But one bird is not enough. Days later, I saw something else. The bird was depositing and arranging sticks on the platform. A nest! As it grew, so did my excitement.

Then one day, I watched a pair of osprey land on the nest and mate, with the male briefly alighting on the female. I even saw both osprey defend their territory from nothing less than a bald eagle. They dive-bombed the larger bird in the sky above the creek, but never came in contact, to shoo it away. Magical.

When the nest is completed to the female’s satisfaction, usually two or three eggs are laid. Then, after an average of 37 days, chicks hatch.

Build the platform we did, and the osprey came — and with them, a memorable spring.

Reader Jim Jones lives in Bayville.

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