Osprey Couple Enjoy Their Home on Mordecai

Apr 17, 2019
Photo by: Michele Budd

Mordecai Island in Beach Haven is home to a pair of love birds – in this case ospreys. According to Michele Budd, vice president of the Mordecai Land Trust and an environmental biologist, Captain and Belle have returned to Mordecai.

“Their reunion on April 1 was exciting to watch – with plenty of cooing and sky dancing,” she said. “They have resettled on their old nest and (are) freshening it with new twigs. Hopefully there will be another osprey chick.”

Budd said the first osprey platform on Mordecai was erected by the late Nicholas “Nickie” Cotov in 1994. Known colloquially as “Captain Bly,” he was a marina owner but also is remembered for erecting many osprey platforms within the Barnegat Bay area to assist in repopulating this declining species.

“The Mordecai platform, however, was never home to an active nest because it was located in an area on the island that was prone to predators,” said Budd. “Over the years, the platform’s condition deteriorated, and it became clear that it could no longer safely support the weight of a nest.”

In 2016, the land trust was approached by Ben Wurst of Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, who wanted to remove the old platform and build a new one on the island. Under his guidance and with the assistance of members from the land trust and ReClam the Bay, a new platform was erected in October 2016.

“The old platform was built near a lot of boat traffic, and that wasn’t very appealing to the birds,” said Wurst.

Budd said the new location quickly attracted an unattached male in the spring of 2017. Although he did not find a mate, he continued defending the area throughout the summer. The male returned in April 2018, and could be heard cooing his mating call for hours until a female finally arrived.

“Aerial and fish-dangling courtship displays, called the ‘sky dance,’ as well as an aggressive defense of the site was observed before culminating in the rapid building of a massive twig nest on the top of the platform,” she said.

In remembrance of Cotov’s legacy and his commitment to the Mordecai ospreys, the male was named Captain. His life-mate was named Belle, in honor of John Maschal’s long-term service to the land trust and his assistance in building the new platform.

Budd said Mordecai’s first osprey egg was laid between May 25 and 27 last year, with hatching occurring in June. The chick, named Buddy, was seen popping its downy feathered head up from the nest on July 8. She said that on July 19, Wurst and she surveyed the nest to tag the nestling with a federal U.S. Geological Survey bird band and a red auxiliary “field readable” leg band onto the right leg of the approximately 4-week-old chick. Budd said that at approximately 8 weeks old, a well-fed and healthy Buddy fledged on Aug. 15 and befittingly took its first flight toward Cotov’s dock.

She said Mordecai’s cove became the preferred location to practice flying and fishing.

“Fishing is taught by the male osprey, and Captain has proven to be an exceptional provider for his family throughout the egg’s incubation and his chick’s development,” she said. “By the beginning of September, Buddy had become a skilled hunter. The downy feathers had also been shed, and because of the new necklace of brown chest feathers, Buddy could now be identified as a female.”

Budd said Mordecai’s first osprey family departed their salt marsh home during the week of Sept. 10 to 14. Each followed their own southern migration toward Florida to the northern sections of South America, where they wintered independently from each other before returning this spring.

“Captain Bly’s vision of an active osprey platform has finally become a reality, and, due to their strong site fidelity to a safe location with plentiful fishing, Captain and Belle will continue to make Mordecai their home,” she said.

— Eric Englund


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