Friday, March 2, 2012

In the Year 2000 - The Osprey

By the year 2000 Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) and Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)  will be extinct.
That is what my 3rd grade teacher told me in 1978. Chemicals were killing the birds including Brown Pelicans, Cormorants and other fishing eating birds. The year 2000 was a long time away and seemingly in a galaxy far, far away and yet for my eight year old, Star Wars-obsessed brain, the notion of extinction was real and saddening to me.

My teacher had oversimplified the problem but I wouldn’t understand that until years later. In fact the ban on harmful chemicals, such as DDT, years earlier had begun the reversal of misfortunate that many of these birds had endured. DDT, an effective chemical pesticide used in the control of malaria-spreading mosquitoes was considered to be the culprit in the decline of many fish-eating bird populations. The chemical bioaccumulates in fatty tissues of animals as it works its way from the base of the food chain, from plant, to invertebrate, to fish, to bird. When the female birds would lay eggs, the DDT inhibited calcium deposition in egg shells resulting in thin eggs that were often crushed by the incubating adults.

After DDT was banned from use in the United States in 1972, the chemical slowly worked its way out of the environment, including wildlife and humans and the affected bird populations began to recover.

Thirty four years after my teacher’s apocalyptic prophecy, the sight of an Osprey taking flight over a body of water in Florida is relatively common. I routinely have the opportunity to watch Ospreys swoop down over the water and with spiculed-talons, grab a fish to eat. The spicules are sharp spines that impale their prey and make it easier for them to catch slippery fish. Nests are conspicuous accumulations of hefty sticks in trees, on utility poles or on human-made Osprey nesting platforms.

The population rebound for many of the species affected by DDT and other chemicals is very encouraging. Yet I would say to the children of today, the health of our ecosystems is still in jeopardy and unless we fix drainage issues, stop nutrient overloads and prevent further habitat loss, species such as the Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill and Florida Panther will be extinct by 2030. 


  1. Thanks for this post, Pete. It's very good to have a historical perspective on what seemed to be insurmountable problems in the past... maybe we can still have some hope for the roseate spoonbills and wood storks, provided that hope is paired with action.

  2. Hope in 2042 one of your tour students will be writing about the Wood Stork, Florida Panther & Roseate Spoonbill that you are about the Osprey and Bald Eagles of today. The Earth would be even cleaner.

  3. Great way to put efforts into perspective!