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Feathering their nest: Osprey couple makes Weston home

Although they aren’t included in this week’s property transfers, Weston has two new notable neighbors. A male and female osprey have built a home atop the cell tower behind Weston Town Hall.

Town hall employees have been having a blast the past two months watching the birds carefully craft their nest. “I’m fascinated with them,” said Ellen Jones, assistant town clerk.

The ospreys appear to be new tenants at the tower. No one recalls seeing them there before.

Ms. Jones and Ken Whitman, the town’s assessor, keep binoculars nearby in order to catch an occasional glimpse of their new feathered friends. They first noticed the birds in April carrying large sticks and branches to the top of the tower and perching on an antenna.

Town Clerk Donna Anastasia said the ospreys look like they are standing guard and when they fly into their nest they land lightly. “They’re very easy and gentle, they aren’t hard on their nest,” she said.

Striking

Ospreys are very striking and resemble bald eagles, making them especially fun for birdwatchers. Also known as a sea hawk or fish hawk, ospreys are large raptors and birds of prey.

Predominantly brown and gray, ospreys have four distinctive “finger feathers” at the end of each wing. Their underbellies are white and they have black patches on their eyes and wings.

Females have a “brown necklace” of feathers across their chest and are usually bigger than male ospreys. As they soar, their wing span can reach more than five feet.

Ospreys are very particular about where they live. Although they can be found around the world, they nest in locations near water which are convenient for them to get their chief food supply — fish.

In Weston, they have the good fortune to be near the Saugatuck and Aspetuck rivers for quick takeout, or just a short flight to Long Island Sound for a full course meal.

Mr. Whitman has seen the Weston ospreys carrying large fish over town hall to their nest. Another osprey fan said he saw one transporting a rabbit.

Although it is not common, ospreys might occasionally prey on rodents and other small animals, according to Milan Bull, senior director of science and conservation for the Connecticut Audubon Society.

The Audubon Society is monitoring its own osprey nest at its coastal center at Milford Point and has installed an “Osprey Cam” for the public to watch the birds live on ctaudubon.org.

Nearly extinct

Ospreys mate for life, but will often accept another mate if one of the pair dies.

While ospreys are not an endangered species, there was a time when they were nearly extinct. Prior to 1972, the osprey population had dwindled significantly in the United States due to the widespread use of the pesticide DDT, according to Mr. Bull.

Although DDT was initially considered a “miracle pesticide” for agricultural purposes, it had tragic effects on birds such as ospreys and bald eagles because it inhibits the bird’s ability to produce calcium. As a result, the eggshells of newborns, which are mostly made of calcium, were very thin and broke before they could be properly hatched. When DDT was banned in 1972, ospreys and bald eagles started slowly coming back.

To encourage the regeneration of ospreys locally, the city of Norwalk and Connecticut Light and Power Company built several platforms for ospreys to build nests. They happen to be in Mr. Whitman’s neighborhood by the shore in Norwalk.

Mr. Whitman said he enjoys watching ospreys aggressively dive for fish. “They’re such beautiful birds. They shoot into the water at incredible speeds. I’ve seen them catch 16-inch fish,” he said.

Illegal eviction

The Weston ospreys are persistent tenants and have flown in the face of eviction to feather their nest.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Whitman said he left his office at 5:30 and saw the ospreys on the cell tower. But the next morning when he got to work, their nest was gone. “I walked around the enclosure and looked up and everything was gone, the whole nest, all the sticks,” he said.

While it is not known who may have removed the nest or how it was done, several people went to the communications center and complained, asking police to keep an eye on it.

“Ospreys are protected and it’s illegal to remove their nests without permission from the Department of Environmental Protection,” said Mr. Bull.

However, two days after the nest disappeared, the ospreys returned to the tower and started rebuilding their nest, once again entertaining and inspiring their grounded fans.

Babies

Birdwatchers are now on maternity watch, waiting for the ospreys to have their babies. They typically lay three or four cream-colored eggs with brown splotches, which hatch towards the end of May or early June.

Osprey chicks fledge by mid-July but will have a lot to learn before they leave Weston in the fall to begin their long journey south for the winter.

Mr. Bull said the osprey eggs will hatch on different days, usually a couple days apart. “You won’t be able to see the young until they get bigger and can stand,” he said.

When they get ready to fledge, they open their wings and start flapping, letting the wind carry them up and bringing them down to rest. “That’s how they develop their wing muscles,” Mr. Bull said.

Adults bring whole fishes back to the babies and tear them into tiny pieces for them to eat. As they grow, the ospreys will eat whole fishes by themselves.

“Ospreys are very tolerant of people and don’t mind them looking at them — as long as they don’t go near their nests,” Mr. Bull said.

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