Migration is a risky business, as I’ve had the chance to experience vicariously this fall via Osprey’s Journey, a website I helped design that is tracking the migration of an osprey from Jamaica Bay in New York to South America. He goes by the name of Coley and though I’ve never seen him in the flesh, I’m half in love with him by now.
Northeastern osprey travel thousands of miles over two to three weeks to reach their winter homes. (Coley’s journey was 2,600 miles long.) Any storm along the way poses a risk. The Caribbean crossing during hurricane season is a particular danger.
In the U.S. osprey and nearly a thousand other birds are protected from hunting — or any type of “taking” or possession — by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a wonderful law passed in 1918 when bird populations were plummeting due to the feather trade. (Oh, for another strong wildlife law like that now!) In the Caribbean and South America, they can be shot down without penalty, and often are.
Threats encountered by other bird species include getting eaten by predatory birds (not osprey — who stick to fish), light pollution and habitat loss from development.
Birds also face habitat loss on their home ground. In fact, the most important songbird nursery in North America, located in the boreal forests of Canada, is currently endangered by the proposed Keystone tar sands pipeline.