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Long Island

Osprey population increasing on Long Island, group says

But the birds still must surmount countless human and natural perils, from abandoned fishing lines and plastic litter to deadly attacks by great horned owls and bald eagles.

Two ospreys are perched on a nest on

Two ospreys are perched on a nest on the East End of Long Island. Photo Credit: George McLanahan

This George and Gracie certainly didn’t have the staying power of their legendary namesakes.

George the osprey let a bigger female chase his Gracie away.

Such is life among the ospreys summering on Long Island, where George and Gracie — named after George Burns and his wife and partner in comedy, Gracie Allen — are among the rising numbers of osprey.

Their breakup was observed by an audience that watches the video camera by the ospreys’ nest in East Marion, overlooking Gardiners Bay, said Aaron Virgin, vice president of the nonprofit Group for the East End, by telephone.

“It was documented, the new, larger bird was able to get her to go away — and George was OK with that,” he said.

The conservationist group’s latest annual survey found 301 pairs like the former couple George and Gracie, up from 198 in 2014.

“The increase was much bigger than we thought it would be,” Virgin said.

Long Island’s population of fish-eating ospreys, once nearly driven to extinction by the DDT insecticide, still must surmount countless human and natural perils, from abandoned fishing lines and plastic litter to deadly attacks by great horned owls and bald eagles.

The bald eagles’ return to Long Island — with examples such as a nest on Shelter Island and two in Shirley —  could threaten the ospreys’ future recovery, as they sometimes seize their fish and slay their young.

“It may not happen next year or within the next five years, but it’s coming,” Virgin said.

The ospreys’ tendency to nest on utility poles instead of in trees is another danger as electrical fires can result. Virgin saluted PSEG for its willingness to replace those nests with safer “platform discs.”

Regulations curbing how many small bait fish — called bunker or menhaden — can be caught are the primary reason Long Island’s population of ospreys is increasing, the Group for the East End said in a statement.

Southold’s Fishers, Plum and Robins islands have 60 known nests, and 48 percent of all ospreys hatch within the town’s borders, the group said. It said: “This is due to the myriad of creeks, coves and small bays adjacent to Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay.” Riverhead only had 19 nests and just over half had tenants, the group said. Ospreys might prefer to nest where they are more sheltered from storms in Long Island Sound.

East Hampton’s ospreys were the most successful parents. Virgin said, “Without question East Hampton appears to be showing the fastest growth, particularly in the Accabonac Harbor area where more than a dozen nests could be observed from a single spot this past summer.”

Paul Henry, of Greenport, the host of the Ospreyzone.com webcam, watched by as many as 30,000 visitors, was not entirely sure that Gracie was driven out — though a female dubbed “The Intruder” definitely was. The body of an osprey that had lain below the nest for a while was found, he said.

“Maybe that’s just kind of poetic license to claim that George took a new bride," he said.

He cautioned that ospreys are not always tenderhearted. "We've seen quite brutal activity," he said.

That includes learning a new word, siblicide, which is when the chick that hatches first lethally attacks the youngest and smallest. Thankfully, the following year, "The little one was tougher and did survive."

Henry explained what makes wildlife webcams so mesmerizing.

"When Gracie and George had their first birds, they knew just what to do, they fed each other gently, to see how to feed their babies," he said. "And when you watch them learning to fly, then they start flying, and catching food, it's just amazing."  

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