January 13, 2017
By Bryan Watts, Center for Conservation Biology
In 2012, The Center for Conservation Biology launched OspreyWatch, an online global community making observations of breeding osprey. The intent on a local scale was to connect people to the breeding pairs around them, to have them engage in the daily lives of these birds, and to learn more about their breeding ecology. Observers have included school groups, master naturalist chapters, bird clubs, and homeowners. The intent was to harness the power of many observers to collectively examine large-scale patterns of breeding phenology and productivity. The osprey is an ideal sentinel species of aquatic ecosystems.
The 2016 breeding season is the fifth since the establishment of OspreyWatch and we have been overwhelmed by the response and generosity of observers. More than 5,600 nests have been registered across several countries with most of the activity concentrated in North America. Nearly 3,000 full-season nesting accounts have been entered. All of these efforts are making a contribution to what we know about ecology across the breeding range.
Among other findings, the data submitted has highlighted the latitudinal shift in nesting date. The onset of incubation shifts more than 150 days (nearly 5 months) across 30 degrees in latitude. The most dramatic shift occurs from the resident population in south Florida, which has the earliest breeding season in North America, to the migratory populations in Georgia and South Carolina. Over a span of only 10 degrees north, the onset of incubation shifts nearly 100 days. North of South Carolina, the rate in the delay in nesting declines to 2.5 days per degree in latitude compared to 10 days per degree south of North Carolina. This important data serves as a benchmark for comparison of future patterns as the climate continues to warm.