YVAS 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 to the monitors. This project has grown to include the following conservation studies and efforts.

Monitoring Nests

Dedicated volunteers adopt one or more Osprey nesting sites in the early spring and follow up with visits to each nest for 30 minutes every one to two weeks recording dates and data such as the Osprey’s spring arrival at the nest, nest building, copulation, incubation, brooding, fledging, and other behaviors. 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 debregele@gmail.com (406-962-3115). 

Banding Nestlings

Dr. Restani, licensed to band Ospreys on the Yellowstone River, began banding Osprey nestlings in 2012. From 2012 to 2014 with the assistance from a Toyota Green Grant, the Osprey Nest Monitoring Project hired an intern (a local Rocky Mountain College student) to assist with nest mapping, monitoring, banding, blood sampling, and to conduct their personal Osprey studies. After three summers of blood sampling from the nestlings, no significant high levels of heavy metals, such as mercury, was found. This indicates that the fish in the Yellowstone River do not have high levels of heavy metals, which is a good thing!

With the assistance of the Osprey Nest Monitors and their observations, Dr. Restani continues to band Osprey nestlings in an on-going study.  In 2018, the 400th Osprey nestling was banded.  Nest Monitors also watch for banded Ospreys during the breeding season.  To date, numerous banded Yellowstone River Ospreys have been documented not only along the Yellowstone River, but in their wintering territories in the southern United States and Central America.   

All nest monitoring 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 in 2009, 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 human intervention, the birds most certainly would die. Along the Yellowstone River, studies show 2 – 4% of nestlings become entangled each year. See our Osprey and Baling Twine brochure for more information.    

Not only does loose uncontained twine cause problems for Ospreys, it can cause injury, suffering and sometimes death by entanglement for other birds, wildlife and domestic livestock. Canada Geese and livestock ingest twine. 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. In 2018, two bull elk had their antlers entangled together and had to be euthanized by MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks officers. Twine dangles from nests on 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.

Twine Recycling Project

The only good way to truly reduce unwanted polypropylene baling twine in an environmentally safe and prudent manner is to recycle the twine. YVAS is in the process of establishing a twine recycling program. In July 2018, YVAS received an Environmental Grant from Patagonia for $8,000 and a Community Grant from Sam’s Club (Walmart) for $250 to help fund the Twine Recycling Site. A GoFundMe account has recently been established to help raise additional funds. Visit the site to read more at https://www.gofundme.com/ospreys-need-your-helpShare the link with family and friends.

In October 2018, YVAS received a Grant from the Harry L. Willett Foundation for $25,000 which enabled the Twine Recycling Project to move forward. The next steps are to lease and make improvements to a two-acre site, purchase and install a storage shed for the collected twine and equipment, and purchase the box baler and other needed equipment. Once this is completed, twine can be accepted from the public. When enough twine is collected and baled, it will be shipped to an out-of-state twine recycling facility. The recycling facilities do request that the twine be 80 – 90% clean. The money received for the recycled twine will be sufficient to cover the loading and shipping costs and possibly some maintenance supplies. 

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 to the Twine Recycling Project or to the Osprey Rescue Fund, it can be mailed to Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society, P.O. Box 1075, Billings, MT 59103.  YVAS is a registered non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. 

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.