Year after year in late March or early April the fish hawks, a.k.a. Ospreys, return from winter territories in the tropics to New York Harbor to raise families. Males and females are often monogamous. They will meet up and re-occupy the same nest they had used the year before to lay eggs and take care of young. In many cases using the same nest as a home for many years until ruined by storms.
This spring at Cheesequake State Park in Old Bridge Township, NJ, returning Ospreys will find a shocking surprise. They have been evicted from their long-standing nesting platforms by other raptors.
Bald eagles and great horned owls are each using their own osprey platform to raise young. Mother eagle is sitting on eggs on one nesting platform in the middle of a large wetland and mother owl is incubating her own eggs in another nesting platform not too far off from woodlands. It’s an amazing sight. I have rarely seen bald eagles or great horned owls nest in a high, open osprey platform before, and certainly never in the same park.
While great horns rarely make their own nest and tend to steal other birds’ nests from red-tails, ravens, or eagles, I have rarely known of any eagle or owl stealing a nest from an osprey. Frequently, eagle and owl populations in New York and New Jersey nest in extensive bucolic areas, but space is a premium around New York Harbor. These big birds have adapted to osprey platforms as a home for their young.
Why not though? Osprey nests are built on high, man-made poles with platforms that have been erected near water. The birds can roost safely with a beautiful 360-degree view of wetlands and woodlands to see other animals that might steal eggs. There is also a rich abundance of food to forage, from fish to frogs, snakes to squirrels. In addition, the nests are already mostly completed, built of sticks with a big depression in the middle for chicks. It’s a perfect prefab home in this urban jungle.
Both bald eagles and great horned owls roughly have the same nesting period. In February, these two big birds are courting and starting to lay eggs. Early breeding will give time for young eagles and owls to learn to hunt, fly, and forage for food. Incubation usually lasts about a month for great horned owls and between five to six weeks for bald eagles. Once eggs are in the nest, an adult is usually always there to incubate them.
With osprey nesting season right around the corner, there is likely to be some territorial skirmishes among eagles, owls and ospreys. The next few weeks should make some interesting interactions. Will eagles and owls maintain ownership? Only time will tell.