Osprey Nest Monitoring Project

Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society’s volunteers have been monitoring and recording data at Osprey nests along the Yellowstone River and its drainages from Gardiner to Miles City since 2009. Today there are 40 active volunteers who monitor and record data at approximately 118 nesting sites. Dr. Marco Restani provides information and continual updates on Ospreys to the monitors. This project has grown to include the following conservation studies and efforts:

Monitoring Nests

Up to forty dedicated volunteers adopt one or more nests in the early spring and follow up with visits to each nest for 30 minutes every one to two weeks recording dates and data including:  the Osprey’s spring arrival at the nest, nest building, copulation, incubation, brooding, fledging, and other interesting and important observations.  To see photos of Ospreys taken by our monitors, visit the Photo tab on the Home Page.  For more information on the YVAS Osprey Nest Monitoring Project, contact Deb Regele at 406-962-3115 or debregele@gmail.com .

Banding Nestlings

In 2012, Dr. Restani began banding Osprey nestlings with the assistance of Osprey Nest Monitors’ observations to determine the correct age of the nestlings. Dr. Restani provides needed information to the Nest Monitors including reports of sightings he receives on banded Yellowstone River Ospreys.

Submitting Data to Montana Natural Heritage Program and Bird Banding Laboratory 

All data is submitted annually to the Montana Natural Heritage Program where it is recorded and made available to all individuals, organizations or groups. The banding records are submitted to the Bird Banding Lab, a division of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. 

Establishing Safe Nesting Sites for Ospreys

Ospreys have a dangerous habit of building nests on top of active power poles. These nests not only endanger the Ospreys and their young but they create problems for utility companies, cause power outages and create fire hazards. YVAS has been working with utility companies and landowners to establish free standing osprey nesting poles and platforms along the Yellowstone River and its tributaries. In many cases, utility companies have donated their material, equipment and manpower toward these projects. YVAS also helps to fund the materials when needed. Some of these recent sites and projects include:

March 2015 – River Road west of Duck Creek Road, 2 poles/platforms provided and installed by YVEC.

December 2014 – Swinging Bridge Fishing Access on Hwy 78, pole/platform provided and installed by BEC.

March 2014 – Osprey Outpost on Hwy 212 south of Laurel provided by YVAS and installed by YVEC.

Fall 2013 – Cattleland Substation west of Park City provided and installed by NWE’s Columbus Office.

Fall 2013 – Prince Concrete Site in Forsyth provided and installed by MDU.

May 2011 – Riverfront Park provided by YVAS and installed by NWE’s Billings Office.

March 2010 – Duck Creek Fishing Access provided and installed by YVEC.

Over recent years – various sites along the Upper Yellowstone River provided and installed by PEC.

Baling Twine Awareness and Recycling

Within the first year of monitoring Osprey nests, monitors saw first-hand that polypropylene baling twine can be deadly to both nestlings and adults. Ospreys have an affinity for the twine and bring it to the nests where the nestlings and adults get entangled. Without humane intervention, the birds most certainly would die. Due to the quick action by YVAS Nest Monitors, Dr. Restani and others, arrangements can be made to try to rescue the entangled Ospreys. In 2012, three nestlings were entangled (two died and one was freed and fledged normally); in 2013, one nestling was entangled (it was freed and fledged normally); in 2014, four nestlings were entangled (all freed and fledged normally); and in 2015, three nestlings were entangled (one was found dead in the nest and two were freed and fledged normally) and one adult was entangled and died before assistance arrived.  And these are just the known fatalities.  Read our handout here.  

Not only does twine cause problems for Ospreys but discarded loose twine also causes injury, suffering and death by entanglement for other birds, wildlife, and domestic livestock. Deer and antelope are seen every year with masses of twine on their antlers and horns making it difficult to see, eat or defend against predators. It dangles from power poles causing costly power outages and can lead to wildfires. In addition, it is a nuisance for highway mowing and field equipment and can cause costly breakdowns.

The only good way to truly reduce unwanted polypropylene baling twine in an environmentally safe and prudent manner is to recycle the twine.  It is a non-renewable resource that simply should be recycled. YVAS is in the process of establishing a twine recycling program but we have a long ways to go. For more information on the twine recycling progress, here are our current needs.  If you are interested in becoming involved with the YVAS Baling Twine Committee, contact Deb Regele at debregele@gmail.com (406-962-3115) or Doreen Hartman at rdzlhman@bresnan.net (406-697-0277).

If you would like to make a tax deductible donation towards a nesting platform or towards the cost of a bucket truck to rescue Osprey nestlings entwined in baling twine, it can be mailed to Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society, P.O. Box 1075, Billings, MT 59103.

Additional Information and History

Between the early 1950’s and early 1970’s, the use of the pesticide DDT was widespread in many countries including the United States.  By the late 1960’s, the population numbers of brown pelicans, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, white pelicans, golden eagles,  ospreys, and other birds had declined significantly.  This decline in population numbers was due to such things as birds’ failure to reproduce due to the affect DDT has on a bird’s ability to metabolize calcium resulting in the thinning and breaking of eggshells.  In 1972, when the Environmental Protection Agency was established, the EPA banned the use of DDT in most regions of the United States.

Birds in Montana, including the osprey, were no exception to the devastating effects of DDT.  Osprey numbers as well as numbers of other bird species have been steadily increasing since DDT was banned in 1972.  Ospreys’ summer range has been moving eastward from western Montana especially along the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers.  Today, ospreys are frequently seen along the Yellowstone River between April and as late as early November.