Osprey chick is hatched

After five years of successful breeding in Newport Beach, once-threatened ospreys have begun to spread their domain.

A female born on a man-made platform in the Upper Newport Bay gave birth recently to a chick at another specialized platform a few miles away, in neighboring Irvine.

Experts say this is a positive sign for a sensitive species that for decades had no known nests in Southern California. The osprey, a bird-of-prey threatened by hunters and DDT, has been cared for locally by a group of dedicated conservationists. They're now just understanding the species' breeding patterns.

"Now we have an idea of how far they might go from their nest," said Scott Thomas, the vice president of Orange County's Sea and Sage chapter of the Audubon Society.

Thomas was one of the conservationists who removed the chick from its nest at a recent "banding" ceremony, where they attached a rubber band to its feet for tracking purposes.

"They're really special birds," he said, "and at that age, they're pretty easy to handle."

Based on the chick's size, biologists believe it to be female, although they say it was too early to tell. Its mother was born in Newport and then nested with an unknown squire in the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, a preserve near UC Irvine.

Experts say it's typical for female ospreys to nest after three years, often in the same place they were born. In this case, it was just five miles away – up an estuary and along a freshwater stream.

Wildlife experts at the Irvine Ranch Water District, which owns and manages the preserve, built a 40-foot-tall nesting platform there last summer. They laid a few branches in it to get the parents started, Thomas said. Soon, the birds arrived and took their lead.

Scientists were able to identify the mother because she had a band around her leg from the Newport nest, which sits on Shellmaker Island. She was born there in 2008 on a platform built by Russ Kerr, a local naturalist, and representatives from the Department of Fish and Game.

It took over a decade for them to entice ospreys to that platform. At first it was bare, and then they learned that the birds like to see a few sticks. The first chicks were born there in 2006.

Ospreys prey on fish in saltwater or freshwater. Some believe that the birds were competition for fishermen in the early 20th century and fell prey to hunters. Then, after World War II, many succumbed to the pesticide DDT.

Thomas said that the conservationists' next step will be to attach radio transmitters to the birds, an expensive step they are now considering.

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