Art’s almost home.
At last look, the GPS-wearing osprey bound for New England from South America was in Florida.
The flapping eight-year-old male is the key figure in a research and education project launched by the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region that focuses on tracking the international migrations of ospreys nesting in the Granite State.
Using cutting-edge solar powered satellite transmitters weighing under a pound affixed to the backs of juvenile and adult ospreys, researchers use interactive web-based technology to allow near real-time tracking of several osprey as they migrate to and from their international nests.
Each tiny backpack contains a small GPS unit that records hourly location, altitude, speed and direction.
The project leader is the Science Center’s executive director, Iain MacLeod. He’s been studying the birds or more than a generation and has been monitoring the osprey population in central New Hampshire since 1997.
“He has a couple of regular roost sites that he uses every night and then spends most of each day perched next to an area of water—always on the lookout for the next fish dinner,” MacLeod told the New Hampshire Union Leader.
In New Hampshire, that nice nest is atop a utility pole on the mighty Pemigewasset River. It’s been home since late 2007.
Art started his migration March 15 in Brazil, and can often travel several hundred miles in a day.
He’s even got a blog. Researchers post Art’s progress online here.
“He was off bright and early on the 24th and by 1pm was again in high gear and over 3,000 feet up cruising over more hilly terrain,” stated the update on March 24. “Ahead is more mountainous country including the spectacular Mount Roraima at over 9,000 feet in elevation.”
The island-hopping raptor is quite the global traveler, visiting countries from Haiti to Cuba, the Dominican Republic to Venezuela.
“Art is keeping up his torrid pace,” the April 2 entry read. “On the 30th, he did another 226 miles, finishing the day at a nice looking lake near the town of Las Cuevas. He spent a couple hours there on the morning of the 31st; no doubt catching and eating breakfast, and then was off again by 11am. He left Cuba at 2pm and started his ocean crossing to Florida, making landfall at around 7pm, having travelled another 260 miles.”
Also instrumental in the project is Dr. Richard O. Bierregaard, a distinguished visiting research professor at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte.
He’s been studying ospreys on Martha’s Vineyard in Cape Cod, Massachusetts since 1969, and in 2000 began deploying lightweight satellite backpacks to track juveniles as they made their first migrations.
After 10 years, and more than 40 birds tagged, his project is providing data revealing migrational differences among ospreys and helping pin down where threats to ospreys lie.
New Hampshire Audubon’s Chris Martin is also part of the project. He coordinates statewide monitoring and conservation of ospreys.
Ospreys are found all over the world, except in Antarctica. The dark brown-backed and white-chested raptors feed on fish.
Adult ospreys grow to about two feet long. Their wings can span up to six feet across. While traveling, they can soar at about 40 miles per hour, but double that as they plunge down to the water while hunting fish.
They’re also impressive at nesting, making some of the bird world’s biggest roosts of sticks, bark, grass, and moss. They can be about a yard deep and five feet across.
“They are very faithful to existing nests,” MacLeod said..
It took Art 35 days to make the trip from New Hampshire to Brazil last year. He could be back home next week.
Image courtesy Squam Lakes Science Center