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Osprey on a nesting platform in Massachusetts. Craig Gibson, CC BY-ND

By Alan Poole

A hundred years ago, a person wandering the back roads of coastal New England might have come across an odd sight: at the edge of a farmyard, cheek by jowl with pigs and chickens and cows, a tall pole topped with a massive stick nest. And standing guard in the nest, a large brown-backed, white-headed wild bird of prey — an osprey (Pandion haliaetus).

Farmers in this region knew that nesting ospreys were vigilant watchdogs, quick to chase "chicken-hawks" and other predators away. But as fish eaters, ospreys were no threat to farm animals. And they were trusting enough to live comfortably near humans. So farmers lured them by building them places to nest — generally, an old wagon wheel atop a bare pole, mimicking the dead trees in which ospreys had nested for millennia.

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