But a surprising variety of less citified birds has learned to live amid the steel and concrete of an urban ecosystem. An unusual alliance with a utility company, for example, has allowed osprey to breed on the Hackensack River.
Hugh Carola, Hackensack Riverkeeper program director, was at the helm of the Robert H. Boyle last July hosting an eco-cruise when he and his guests witnessed osprey chicks leaving a nest near PSE&G's Hudson generating station on St. Pauls Avenue.
The story actually starts a decade earlier, says Carola, when osprey were spotted near the generating station, and the Riverkeepers asked PSE&G to install platforms for the birds to nest on. Last year, the Riverkeeper folks asked PSE&G to minimize disturbance around the platforms, which may have helped the birds successfully breed. Before that, obstacles like marauding gulls had foiled their efforts.
Riverkeeper Captain Bill Sheehan says the nests are "about the size of a small arm chair and made from twigs, reeds, debris, and sometimes plastic tape woven in and out. But it's not uncommon for the birds to have trouble getting their nesting skills together." According to Carola, they sometimes build nests in "strange places that are too high or windy, like an electrical transmission tower."
Osprey have a five-to-six-foot wingspan and are "very accomplished hunters," Sheehan says. They have no catch-and-release policy, feeding off "small white perch and striped bass, swooping down very quickly and grabbing the fish with their talons."
"Sometimes," Carolla says, "they'll catch a fish and drop it in the water for one of their offspring to catch."
If you're looking for an osprey, start around April. That's when the male returns from the South and "stands at the edge of the nest calling for the female," Sheehan says. "After they mate, it takes six to eight weeks for the eggs to hatch, and by June or July, they are ready to fly. In late summer the parents migrate South, and when the young build up stamina, they join the migration and are usually gone around Labor Day."
Osprey are currently on the "threatened" list, which is one grade below endangered, according to Sheehan. "Osprey avoided the Hackensack 50 or 75 years ago because the water was so polluted there were no fish to feed on," he says. "Their return to the river is a good sign."-Kate Rounds