Warning Signs Help Protect Nesting Ospreys

Ospreys are busy trying to raise families on the barrier islands. But the nesting birds face problems from two legged intruders.

Some island visitors get too close to the birds and disturb the nests.

Now the National Park Service is working to keep visitors a safe distance away.

A female osprey warily guarded her nest as we crept a bit closer with our camera. In a nearby tree, the male osprey is equally on guard. Early summer is a critical time for ospreys to hatch and raise their young.

"This time of year the osprey have chicks and are needing to be on the nests to shield them from the sun and they're very sensitive to disturbances by people," said Park Service biologist, Gary Hopkins.

This weekday morning finds a peaceful setting on picturesque Horn Island. While we study the osprey, a flock of pelicans glides along the northern shore.

The wilderness setting has long been an inviting breeding grounds for the osprey. Near the known nests, rangers have posted "Area Closed" signs.

"When we post our signs we test them to see that we can actually stand at a sign without disturbing the birds. And that's primarily how we decide our location," said Hopkins.

The closing is temporary. The signs will remain up until the young ospreys leave the nests by early August. Keeping people a safe distance away will help ensure a more productive population.

"If we let the productivity go too low for too long, then we'll be in a deficit situation. As the older birds die or leave the population, then we'll have less breeders for future years," Hopkins explained.

Along with the warning signs, rangers are handing out information pamphlets to island visitors. There's plenty of island to accommodate both the birds and nature lovers. The osprey just need a little space.

"When you see the signs, and we put flags between the signs to put a boundary there, just follow and stay out of those closed areas," said Hopkins.

There are some 65 osprey nests on Horn Island and another 30 on East Ship Island. Island visitors should be on the lookout for the "Area Closed" signs and keep a safe distance from the nesting birds.