Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
osprey in flight

Port Burwell Provincial Park is an ideal location for large birds of prey.

Two local ospreys (affectionately called Ollie and Oona) fish in Big Otter Creek and the shores of Lake Erie, and regularly bring their “catch of the day” to the park’s radio tower for a fine dinner atop the park.

In February 2019, local volunteer Cliff Dickinson approached the park about the feasibility of installing an osprey nesting platform.

Why build a nest platform?

During the 1950s and 1960s, osprey populations in Ontario declined dramatically.

Today they return, but they face an obstacle. The osprey generally builds its nests in tall, isolated trees that are near shallow bodies of water. But if a natural option is not available, ospreys may be forced to nest on dangerous structures, such as utility poles and television towers.

As seen on the two maps, the number of breeding pair locations increased between 1985 and 2005. However, the Lake Erie shoreline remains sparse.

osprey sighting maps, 1985 vs 2005Fountain: Atlas of the breeding birds of Ontario, 2001-2005. Accessed: January 2020

Park staff see ospreys regularly in Port Burwell and we wanted to provide them with additional nesting opportunities, close to where they hunt. Nesting platforms are a safer alternative and have proven acceptable for Osprey.

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Additionally, once occupied, the platform will allow visitors and locals to witness the beauty of nature in action.

Would Ollie and Oona get their platform?

First, staff consulted with Ontario Parks environmentalists and our teams completed an Environmental Assessment. We wanted to make sure that adding a tower for Ollie and Oona was beneficial and would not impact other species in the park or damage the landscape.

Next, we investigate the requirements for a nesting platform. Helpful resources including Construction of nesting platforms for ospreys (MNRF) and Artificial nest structures for ospreys, construction manual (Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Services), as well as platform drawings designed by Hydro One, were instrumental in determining the specific details of the project, including location, height and type of platform.

On November 29, 2019, installation of the new platform on a 50′ pole was completed, thanks to the help of Hydro One.

Hydro 1 staff installing the pole and platformThis project could not have been completed without the expertise of the Hydro One staff and the generous assistance of their equipment and materials.

Now all we can do is wait and see if Ollie and Oona will take this prime spot.

What is an osprey?

Ospreys are large, eagle-like diurnal hawks that eat almost exclusively fish, hence why some people call them ospreys or ospreys.

osprey in flightPhoto: Darwin Barnard

Adult birds have a dark brown back with a white neck and belly; the white is interrupted by a dark mask over the eyes. They also have a unique “bend” on the wrist along the wings, making them easy to identify in high flight.

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Map showing strongest osprey sightings in southeastern Ontario, less so in the northThe osprey can be found throughout much of central and southern Ontario. Note the shortage along the Lake Erie shoreline. Photo (right): Darwin Barnard

The osprey’s legs are perfectly adapted to its hunting habits:

  • They have four toes of equal length, unlike most falcons.
  • Their claws are barbed to help hold prey securely
  • They have a reversible outer finger that allows them to grab their prey with two forward and two backward claws.

osprey perched on a poleLook at those claws! Photo: Darwin Barnard

These adaptations help them get a firm grip on wet, squirming fish, and allow them to carry their prey upside down (which is more aerodynamic) while flying.

osprey in flightPhoto: Darwin Barnard

How can you help Ollie and Oona settle in?

The osprey can tolerate a wide variety of habitats if the nesting site is near a body of water with a good food supply.

What they cannot control are disturbances during the nesting season (April – June).

For this reason, we ask visitors to observe nesting platform activity from a distance and for short periods of time.

We look forward to welcoming Ollie and Oona to the neighborhood, and we hope you visit us too!

Funding for the installation, equipment and materials was made possible through the Hydro One Community Investment Initiative.