NEWBURYPORT — Once endangered, ospreys have begun making a comeback in Essex County.
The large birds of prey have been spotted all over the North Shore this past spring and summer, with 26 nesting pairs confirmed last year, according to a report by the Essex County Greenbelt Association.
Locally, nesting pairs of ospreys have been reported in Salisbury, Newburyport and Newbury, and while the Greenbelt report only covers Massachusetts communities, ospreys have also been known to inhabit Seabrook as well.
The latest numbers are an encouraging sign for researchers at Greenbelt, who confirmed 18 nesting pairs in 2012, 14 in 2011 and 10 in 2010. More generally, ospreys have made a major comeback since they were nearly wiped out in the 1960s by unregulated pesticide use, which weakened osprey eggshells and caused widespread nesting failure.
“In the early 1960s, because of DDT and other pollutants, the osprey were almost completely eliminated,” said Bill Gette, sanctuary director at the Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport. “With all the work that’s been done since, the water system is cleaner and the osprey aren’t getting all the harmful chemicals, so they’ve really come back strongly.”
According to the Greenbelt report, there are four nesting pairs of ospreys in Salisbury, two in Newbury and one in Newburyport. Gette said the nests can be found easily along the Salisbury side of the Merrimack River near the Route 1 bridge, and within the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
“They’re not hard to find during the nesting season,” Gette said. “All throughout the Great Marsh, there are platforms put up by a number of different organizations that have osprey on them.”
Ospreys feed almost exclusively on fish and nest near bodies of water. With wingspans up to 6 feet, they are often seen gliding low over water before diving feet-first and grasping fish in their talons.